Whether you’re a marathon runner or cycling studio regular, you know you need to set aside time for a physical recharge. One tool that promises to help you get back on your feet faster? Compression boots.
The recovery gadgets work by filling up with air and then deflating to give your legs a massage. (The official name of this mechanism is intermittent pneumatic compression, BTW.)
“They’re as close as you can get to having a personal masseuse,” says Stacie Barber, DPT, founder and owner of The Physio Fix. They’ve been on the market for a bit, but brands are making them more accessible with travel-size options (like the new Normatec Go by Hyperice), as well as pairs at lower price points. Here’s how they work and who should use them.
Meet the experts: Stacie Barber, DPT, is the founder and owner of The Physio Fix. Lisa Mitro, DPT, specializes in physical therapy and sports medicine treatment for runners.
Do compression boots help with muscle soreness?
Yes! When the boots fill with air, the air pressure typically starts squeezing your feet, then works its way up your legs. This helps push blood up to your heart and increases blood flow. That means more oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and less soreness.
The relief is temporary, though, and the boots won’t reduce muscle damage from prolonged exercise, according to research. Also: Don’t strap them on right after a tough workout, says Lisa Mitro, DPT. Go for gentle full-body mobility first, like a walk, to prevent joint stiffness and bring your heart rate down. Then, boot time.
Can they help with swelling?
They can. Better circulation helps bring down the pain and puffiness too. Barber even credits the boots for her recovery from an Achilles tendon rupture. “They were effective at reducing swelling, which meant the wound could heal and close,” she says. People with conditions that cause fluid buildup in the legs, like diabetes, may also see improvements.
A few exceptions: Those with congestive heart failure, arterial insufficiency (which slows blood flow through arteries), and deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in legs) should opt for other remedies, like eating a low-salt diet, at the guidance of their doc.
Are they as effective as massage?
Both are legit methods to help you bounce back. But full compression boots essentially target discomfort from the thigh down and won’t soothe other achy areas, such as hips, shoulders, and back.
Also, a massage is more focused on soft-tissue relaxation and has the added benefit of human touch, says Mitro. Still, the leg wraps may help with tissue repair in a roundabout way—they promote relaxation and help you sleep, which is crucial for recovery.
They’re generally best for elite athletes or marathoners with back-to-back races, says Mitro. For others seeking post-sweat relief: Take that walk. Think these boots will work wonders, and you can afford them? Go for it!
Jackie Lam is the senior health editor at Women’s Health where she oversees health and weight loss content for the website and the Mind section of the print magazine. Originally from Hong Kong, she’s a journalist with more than 10 years of experience and a proud graduate of Cornell University and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. When she’s not at her laptop, she can be found experimenting with Japanese recipes in her kitchen with her husband as her main taste tester, discovering the latest in K-Pop, and dreaming up her next trips to Japan.
Jacqueline Andriakos is the Executive Health & Fitness Director at Women’s Health, where she oversees all health and fitness content across WomensHealthMag.com and the print magazine. She has more than five years of experience writing and editing in the wellness space and has contributed to national publications including TIME, Self.com, Health, Real Simple, and People. Jacqueline is also certified in personal training by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).