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What Is the Purpose of Compression Shorts?

By Lauren Leatherman

Popular among both elite and recreational athletes, compression shorts are specially-constructed athletic gear that provide support to the waist, groin and thighs during physical activity, namely distance running and cycling.


Compression shorts separate and compress groin and thigh muscles, which can rub together during physical exercise and cause the sciatic nerve (located along the outer thigh) to become irritated, or in some cases, injured. Additionally, the shorts (which typically extend from the waist to mid- or low-thigh) provide warmth to the muscles, protecting them from stress and strain. They also provide protection from chafing and rashes, which can be both painful and detrimental to athletic performance.


Compression shorts are made from a blend of nylon and Lycra, making them durable, comfortable and malleable. Some compression shorts also feature wicking material, which wicks moisture away from the body. This keeps you dry and reduces the potential for chafing.


Some athletes believe that compression shorts improve their athletic performance. By isolating the thigh from the hamstring, friction (which lessens momentum) is reduced. Uniform compression is thought by some to aid in speed and efficiency. While there has been no scientific or medical consensus on the performance-enhancing value of compression shorts, they remain popular among athletes who require gear that minimizes friction and protects against muscle strain.

Therapeutic Benefits

Compression shorts are often recommended by physical therapists to patients suffering from sciatica, a condition characterized by intense back pain. Sufferers may find relief by wearing compression shorts under normal workout clothes. Compression shorts separate and compress the thigh, thereby reducing further irritation of the sciatic nerve.

Proper Fit

Compression shorts should fit snugly but should not be too tight, enabling an athlete to move freely. In a well-fitting pair of compression shorts, a gap will form between the thigh and groin area. If more support is desired, look for compression shorts with a higher percentage of Lycra.

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