Health

Friday 1 August 2014

When marathons take their toll, try a little compression, or take an ice-bath

Try compression on an injury, such as a swollen elbow. Photo: Getty Images.
Try compression on an injury, such as a swollen elbow. Photo: Getty Images.

If you've ever wanted to get a temporary glimpse into the world of the mobility-challenged, and the problems they face every day – do a marathon. It's been a while since I've been this incapacitated after a race, but immediately after the Boston Marathon, my legs were completely seized from the impact of 26 hard miles, topped with some mild dehydration. I tottered the short kilometre walk back to my hotel, wondering anxiously how I would get up the four lift-free flights of stairs to my room (with great difficulty, as it turned out).

When you've done this much damage to the muscles from a really big race, there's only one sure-fire cure for tissue damage and the associated soreness – time – but icing and compression, as in the case of acute injuries, can help.

Sadly, I didn't have a Sherpa to run to Whole Foods for ice, so I skipped the ice-bath this time, but I have used them to good effect after previous marathons and triathlons.

With manufacturers claiming that compression socks and tights increase oxygen delivery to the muscles, decrease lactic acid and improve lymph drainage, it's common to see lots of athletes wearing compression socks mid-race and full compression tights post-race to aid recovery. Most laboratory studies suggest that compression garments provide little effect in improving performance while running or cycling. It's been more generally agreed, however, that wearing compression garments do aid recovery after tough exercise. My scientific conclusion: for post-marathon recovery, both ice-baths and compression-wear feel good, and every little helps.

This Week ...

I'm a little ashamed to say that I was sold on my new compression socks purchase at the Boston Marathon exposition, not because of their increased performance promises, but mostly because they were Kelly-green and matched my Irish flag shirt. While the jury's out on their benefits in aiding performance mid-race, I felt secure that I was in good company, sporting calf-compression on race day along with eventual race winner, Meb Keflezighi.

Afterwards, post-shower, I had a fresh set of compression socks for recovery. Pro: they should increase blood flow and help me get back down those infernal stairs a little easier. Con: my toes were a very long way away, attached as they were to two painful planks of wood. After some comedic wrestling, I got the socks on, and hobbled out to meet some of the Galway City Harriers for a recovery meal and race post-mortem.

The next day, wandering the city on stiff legs, I found myself eyeing athletes in full compression leggings enviously. Next time, I'll throw style to the wind and just go for one of those full inflatable compression leg recovery suits. Maybe.

  • Twitter: @Deirdrehassett

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