My fate was sealed in 1997. I hopped up onto my skateboard. “Here,” I told a friend. “Let me show you how to properly do an ollie.”
And everything was going good until I shifted my weight a little wrong as I was coming down. I had too much weight on the back foot, so the skateboard skidded out from underneath me. My feet went above my head, my arms went out to break my fall… and that meant a broken right elbow.
My friend laughed. “At least you didn’t break your head.”
Maybe not, but it changed my approach to playing basketball. Any time I’d go up for a shot, that joint would ache badly – even a year after it had healed. There was only one solution that could provide relief: a top rated arm compression and shooting sleeve for basketball.
Why Do Basketball Players Wear Compression Sleeves?
Compression sleeves started coming out around the time Allen Iverson had elbow surgery and began wearing them in the 2000-2001 NBA season. That’s right around the time I started needing to wear one as well. The compression in the sleeve helps to support the joint and its surrounding muscles, keeping the area warmer. That warmth stimulates blood flow to the area, which keeps the muscles looser and joint pain to a minimum.
The goal with arm compression isn’t to look awesome. It’s to prevent a future injury from occurring. When you’ve injured a joint that you must move frequently during a game, fatigue can cause it to begin to seize up. By keeping it warmer, you’re able to reduce the fatigue. That means it seizes less on you. The surrounding muscles are also less likely to cramp up.
Now that’s not to say compression sleeves don’t offer other benefits. They do. And they can also be quite the fashion statement. It’s just important that you follow any league rules that may be in place before you decide to wear one – and you may need to have a note from your doctor.
Why Do Basketball Players Wear Arm Sleeves (that don’t have compression)?
When Allen Iverson was playing basketball, he had sleeve tattoos on his arms that were technically against the league rules. By wearing the arm sleeves, he could avoid the unwanted attention his tattoos would bring and potentially avoid fines associated with them.
High school and college players can take advantage of what basketball arm sleeves can do in the same way. Although most leagues have lessened tattoo display rules that were in place 20-30 years ago, some schools do have uniform policies that may prevent the display of tattoos during gameplay. Wearing an arm sleeve can cover up a tattoo that might otherwise cause a player to either sit on the bench or consider having a tattoo removed.
But shooting sleeves are everywhere today. Watch any basketball game and you’ll see virtually every player wearing at least one of them. In addition to injury prevention, there are some specific advantages which can come about when they are being worn.
- They offer sweat wicking capabilities that can keep the arms drier, preventing turnovers that can happen when arms get slick with perspiration.
- They can help to protect the arm and elbow when diving on the floor for a ball or the skin-on-skin contact that occurs when fighting for a tough rebound.
- They provide shooters with confidence, giving players a needed boost when it’s time for them to hit a high pressure shot.
Some players have a real medical need to wear arm compression. Others may do it for practical purposes. There is even a mental component to the arm sleeve that is worth considering. None of these benefits can be experienced, however, unless you purchase the correct arm sleeve for your playing style, arm size, and physical need.
How to Find the Best Compression Arm Sleeves for Basketball
“Yep,” the pharmacist told me. He had just double-checked the measurement of my elbow. “Your arm size is definitely a medium.” And so he handed over a medium arm sleeve with written instructions on how to wear it.
Of course that short story dates me. Arm compression is readily available from online stores and sporting goods retailers everywhere today. Back in the day though, it was often considered to be a medical device and you’d need a prescription for a sleeve that was useful.
So I slipped on the arm sleeve before my first practice back after the injury. My arm felt warm. The joint felt better than it had in some time with it on for only a few minutes. I felt confident.
As I took my first few shots, everything seemed to be working pretty well. Then the top of the compression sleeve began to fall down. I pulled it up and kept going.
But then the bottom part of the sleeve started pulling up. I pulled it down. Then the top would sag again. Pretty soon, once the sweat started to flow, the elasticity was reduced and the sleeve would bunch up uncomfortably right in the elbow.
When you’re wearing an arm sleeve, you need to be very conscious of the size. It cannot be too large. If it is, then it will be useless. If the sleeve is too small, you’ll receive too much compression and that might actually lead to an injury if you’re not careful. Small sleeves also dig into your arm and leave massive red marks that hurt for a couple of days afterward.
So grab a couple of different sizes. I recommend purchasing the size that is recommended by the manufacturer for your arm and then purchasing the next size smaller. That way you can make sure that you’re wearing the correct arm sleeve.
Playing Style and Arm Compression in Basketball
Part of the reason why the shooting sleeve was a key piece of equipment for me was because of my playing style. My team had me playing as the #2 and I was often posted near the corner. The outside shot put extra stress on my joint, which the arm compression could reduce.
We also played a lot of Box-and-1 and I was often the player in man defense while everyone else played zone. All of that movement and guarding put extra stress on my elbow as well, which would often cause it to ache before the end of the first quarter if I didn’t wear the sleeve.
Then add in the fact that I was the backup point guard and my right arm is my dominant one, so after all of that shooting and defensive work, I’d be called on to distribute on a regular basis. My arm needed stable and strong support.
Different playing styles benefit from arm compression. Active players who often slash to the rim or need to be playing strong defense benefit from a tight sleeve. Shooters benefit from a shooting sleeve. This can be a sleeve that covers the entire arm or can be around the elbow if more joint support is required.
For post-up players, sleeves on the arm are often less important than sleeves on the knee. Post-up players are typically jockeying for position in the paint, trying to gain some leverage to then back down a defensive player. The best leg and knee sleeves for basketball are going to be more supportive. The hand-fighting that occurs during position placement isn’t really benefited by the addition of an arm sleeve for most players.
Should an Arm Sleeve Even Be Used?
Now here’s the real question: does arm compression in basketball provide confidence? Or does it create reliance?
There are some real medical needs that a shooting sleeve can benefit. From tendonitis to bursitis to joint support after an injury, the added warmth and support can help to reduce fatigue and pain dramatically. In that instance, the small investment into a shooting sleeve is worth it every single time.
Yet shooting requires more than a sleeve for a player to be good. The best shooters put plenty of practice into their art. They need the hand/eye coordination, shooting fundamentals, and footwork to put up the rock properly and a shooting sleeve won’t do that for them. The arm sleeve can improve flexibility and reduce swelling, but it won’t cause fundamentals to appear when they weren’t there before.
To some extent, a shooting sleeve is a placebo. It makes a player believe they can be better, so they become better. In this instance, arm compression might not be the right solution. Take away the placebo and suddenly you have a basketball player that is lacking in confidence.
Take the opportunity to search for the best arm compression and shooting sleeves for basketball today so you can support your game in a way that makes sense. Maybe you have a broken elbow that healed, but needs some more support. Or maybe you just need some confidence. Smart decisions create smart gameplay. Get the right size and you might just be able to take your game to the next level.