Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tommie Copper Compression Sleeve Review

Whether it's aero bars, wetsuits with special coatings, low friction tires, or body hugging skin suits, triathletes are always looking for that magic bullet that will make them faster during the race, and recover faster after the race. Some of these technological advances are a lot easier to prove than others: For example, You can put a rider on a bike in a wind tunnel, adjust their position, and see the difference in how much wind resistance they generate. But how do you measure how someone feels when they're racing or how much they've recovered 3 days after a race?

Therapeutic Compression (essentially wearing a garment that applies either uniform or graduated pressure against sections of the body) has been studied for years in regards to how it helps both healthy and unhealthy individuals deal with conditions from varicose veins to recovery after exercise. It's been used therapeutically long before it was adopted as a potential performance or recovery enhancer for endurance athletes. Most studies agree that compression garments, especially graduated compression, at minimum reduces DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Sorness) which is where that day-after-the-race achy feeling comes from.

Another very popular, albeit less scientifically proven therapy, is copper therapy. Copper deficiency is one of the known causes of osteoarthritis, and it's been shown in studies of athletes that copper in the blood decreases during exercise and is restored with rest. It has been proven in animals that oral copper intake can reduce joint damage progression, but what hasn't been proven beyond anecdotal evidence is if copper absorbed through the skin from contact (ie the copper bracelet), has a positive effect for the wearer. Studies have provided mixed results, with most scientists believing any improvements are attributed to placebo effect. That hasn't stopped people from buying and wearing them and many people swear by copper therapy.

It was with this information in hand that I took on the task of reviewing a Tommie Copper calf compression sleeve. I wanted to see how it worked, what it felt like, and how it stacked up against some competition. I requested a sample from Cassie, their Director of Communication, and she was more than happy to oblige. I received the sleeve a little less than a week ago and have been able to give it a pretty thorough work over.

The first thing I noticed about the Tommie Copper calf sleeve was how light it is. If you've ever worn warm weather UnderArmor, or a sweat wicking T-shirt, it's the same thickness of material as one of those. Further, it shimmers a bit in the light, which might be the proprietary fabric weave with the copper. Finally, it users grippers (like in the bottom of triathlon or bike shorts) in order to hold position on the calf and a flat stitched seam runs up the back of the sleeve; but I'll get to that more in a bit.

While many of the compression therapy companies market their products towards recovery, I've seen an increasing number of athletes wearing these products during races as well. I wanted to understand what difference I might feel wearing the sleeve during training. I wore the sleeve for a 31 mile training ride my wife and I completed this past Sunday. It's an out and back ride, so when we rested at the turnaround, I switched which leg the sleeve was on. I can definitely say that the leg I wore the sleeve on for the first half of the ride felt fresher for the second half than the leg that didn't have it. I repeated this test with a couple of short runs, and found the same results.

No, that's not a hobbit's foot
That left me with a couple of questions: was it the compression, the copper, or both that made my leg feel better? So my next step was to put the Tommie Copper sleeve up against the competition. I got a pair of graduated recovery socks from The Recovery Sock for Christmas. I've primarily worn them after longer workouts, and had only worn them for one short workout prior to getting the Tommie Copper sleeve. Over the past few days I have worn the Tommie Copper sleeve on one leg and a Recovery Sock on the other leg during multiple of the same intensity and distance. And I did one run without either to compare how I felt running with and without them.

What I found is that while the Tommie Copper sleeve and The Recovery Sock both provided additional comfort during runs, keeping my legs fresher, I felt The Recovery Sock did a slightly better job, mostly because it also provides compression around the ankle and foot where the Tommie Copper sleeve stops at the lower leg. I will say the Tommie Copper sleeve did feel lighter to wear and was far more breathable for wearing during exercise. While it is only available in black, the Tommie Copper sleeve is definitely the better choice than my recovery socks for warm weather exercise. Tommie Copper does offer an ankle sleeve, at an additional cost.

The primary purpose of recovery gear is of course recovery and I followed the same process of switching legs with the products and wearing each independently over the past few days following workouts. Recovery has definitely been easier because I've been wearing the compression gear during exercise. Wearing the items around the house, there's no doubt the Tommie Copper sleeve has an advantage; it's so light I could easily forget it's even on. The Recovery Sock is very tight (as it should be), and because it doesn't breathe it's probably better for cold nights after a hard workout. Because of this, you can wear the TC sleeve for a longer  period of time comfortably.

The red you see is the tablecloth, the shiny stuff appears to be the copper
There are two problems I have with the Tommie Copper sleeve, first of which being that the sleeve I was sent developed a hole right on the rear seam, about halfway up. It appears that a stitch broke leading to a manufacturing defect that has grown to a hole about the size of half a penny. It doesn't seem to be getting larger, and continues to function well. My wife noticed it well before I did. When I mentioned the hole to Cassie, she informed me that Tommie Copper has a 30 day refund or exchange policy from receipt of your order. They've sent me a replacement sleeve which I will be sure to report on the durability of at a later date.

Secondly, and more importantly, I can't confirm that having copper in it has made the TC calf sleeve more effective than other compression gear without it. The company's motto is "it just works", which I do agree with; it does make my leg feel better from wearing it during and after exercise. However, the primary differentiator for the product is the copper, and I'm just not sure it had any additional effect. I will say that at just $19.99 per sleeve, the price of these sleeves may also serve as a differentiator. Zoot's CompressRX calf sleeves retail for $59.95, nearly $20 more than a pair of Tommie Cooper sleeves. The Recovery Sock are $5 less than the TC sleeve per pair, by comparison.

In conclusion, while the jury is still out on whether or not the copper makes a difference, it's certainly a good monetary value in compression sleeves, and I was overall pretty happy with how the Tommie Copper sleeve worked.


  1. great review! I am not one to believe in chrystals and magnets and braclets and ions...blah blah blah
    I do know that on the two occasions I had a minor muscle strain in my lower leg from running, I wore the Tommie Copper calf sleeves to bed and the discomfort was gone the next day.
    I don't care if they say that it's made with unicorn hair--whatever it is, it worked for me :D

    Happy Training!!

  2. JenniferLeah - Whats great about a product like this is that you have a technology proven to work like compression, and one that may or may not work in the copper. So you're guaranteed some benefit, and if the copper adds something extra, even better!

  3. I just saw the infomercial and wanted some feedback. This helps a lot and now has put my mind at ease to invest in this product.

  4. Bought knee compression sleeve on Dec 1st., 2011 and after one week no change in knee pain. Sent it back for refund based on 30 day guarantee and contacted them by email twice. It has been over two weeks now since USPS Priority Mail delivered it back to them and they do not respond to my emails and no refund given. THEY DO NOT BACK THEIR GUARANTEE. Not a good company as far as I'm concerned.

  5. While thats definitely a problem, I wonder if the issue is really the time of year. Did you add delivery confirmation to know they've received it, and processed it?