compression canva

It started with the foam rollers. And then vibrating foam rollers. Today, the market for “fitness recovery” encompasses a large scope of expensive gadgets from Tom Brady’s infra-red pajamas to cryo chambers, float pods, massage guns, and mats with little spikes on them despite the limited research that any of it works.

One of the newer recovery devices on the market is far more costly than most of these recovery accessories, the Normatec boots. It ranges from $500-$1,300 for a pair of compression boots. Normatec boots are made by one of the leading massage gun brands Hyperice. Its competitor Therabody has boots on the market too.

compression canva

What Are Compression Boots?

Compression helps decrease swelling by restricting blood circulation to the injured or inflamed area.  These boots inflate like the blood pressure test at the doctor’s office, creating an enjoyable feeling for many and providing some support to an injured joint. The compression moves from toes to hips squeezing blood upwards as GearPatrol described, “like a tube of toothpaste”.

Why Is Compression Popular?

Pendulum has previously covered how years ago the RICE technique (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) has been deemed invalid through several decades since it was published in the 1970’s. However, it was too late to retract, even when the person who coined the term wrote a book about how his following research disproved that any of the RICE techniques made a difference in recovery.

Compression takes swelling out of a joint. By doing so, static compression improves comfort, but it also impedes the circulatory system’s ability to remove dead cells and bring new nutrients to the area. The RICE techniques continue to be popular because a decrease in swelling and less pain feel like real recovery. Psychologically, there’s something to be said that having optimism during recovery can be a big asset and make someone feel in control of healing.

Over time, all four RICE practices ballooned out into becoming common sense remedies for sore muscles, improving athletic performance, and part of overall recovery. The last ten to fifteen years have seen a fitness counter shift away from “no pain, no gain” to “no pain, more gain”.

Without evidence beyond personal experience, many professional athletes have marketed the boots and are also investors in either Hyperice or Therabody. Therabody is the NFL’s official recovery brand. The athletes who act as influencers to what enters the regular market will often jump on board with whatever device they think might give them a competitive advantage, often with the mentality that they can’t afford to not have something that the competition has.

Do The Boots Work? …Maybe!

Because compression will reduce blood circulation, it may feel like a numbing effect even if it elongates total recovery time. This will often be perceived as healing. One avid athlete on youtube used his boots on one leg and not the other and reported no sore muscles for the leg that had the boot.

Because these are wellness retail items, they don’t undergo any type of testing to back up what they are being marketed as. The Hypervolt Massage Gun creator wanted to wait for more testing before putting it on the market but was pressured into it to get ahead of similar items. One study on Normatec boots found an almost imperceivable improvement in muscle soreness and performance by athletes using Normatec boots.

There may be factors that have nothing to do with compression that make the boots work. The boots may serve as a psychological placebo effect. The head of the University of Pittsburg Athletic Department in an interview explained that she will often use these boots along with other “recovery gear” to encourage athletes to sit down and relax. With a prop, it feels like they are taking active control in their recovery instead of sitting out. She feels it’s more likely the rest break attributed to physical recovery, although if there’s a boost in confidence from using the boots it doesn’t hurt.

Surprisingly, there is a condition the boots are medically very advantageous for. Deep Vein Thrombosis. These blood clots usually start in the calf area, and the compression boots apply pressure that mimics the pumping action one would experience walking. This helps move the clot and improve the leg’s circulation. While evidence is very mixed if this is useful for someone without DVT, if it helps circulation for this condition maybe there’s something to it for the regular user.

Overall, the boots just might work even if they look silly. The questions we don’t have answers to is how significantly they work, and if they work enough to justify the price point. However, it appears this product is selling great and it’s an indicator of how much people are willing to spend to find new ways of avoiding sore muscles.