Why Do Basketball Players Wear Sleeves?

Basketball is a very popular sport played by hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

It was invented over 100 years ago but it wasn’t until 1950 that the first official rules were established for this game.

The most recent modifications to these rules have been made to increase player safety and reduce injuries during play.

In order to protect against injury, some players choose to use protective equipment including wrist guards or forearm/elbow pads as well as wearing long-sleeved jerseys with mesh panels.

Arm sleeves are also preferred because of the benefits that they provide players.

Basketball players typically wear sleeves on their arm to keep their muscles warm and for additional protection. Furthermore, the sleeves offer muscle compression that relieves pain in the elbow joints and alleviates any swelling, blood clots or fatigue in this area of the body.

Let’s now dig deeper into this topic!

What is the point of basketball arm sleeves?

This article will explain the four main reasons why professional athletes wear arm sleeves when playing basketball.

1. To keep their arm muscles warm

why basketball players wear sleeves - to keep arm muscles warm

The primary function of an armpit is to sweat out water through its pores so that evaporation can cool down your hand and arm skin temperature.

However, since you don’t want moisture from sweating to get trapped within the fabric of your sleeve, arm shirts are designed to keep moisture away from the underarms.

So how do arm sleeves work then?

Well, they provide warmth around the shoulder area by trapping air inside the material instead of letting it escape like normal clothing would.

Since there’s less space for heated moist air molecules to go into, the overall body temperature stays lower than usual.

Sweat glands also benefit from this effect since less sweat gets produced at the affected areas (i.e. under arms).

To make sure that the garment provides enough insulation, it needs to be thick enough not only along the entire length of the arm but also across each individual muscle group starting from the neck all the way down to the fingertips.

If you look closely at the design of many sports apparel brands’ fabrics, you may notice that they often include layers of different thicknesses of fibers woven together.

These thicker sections allow the garments to stay warmer longer even if the wearer is moving and shaking his limbs vigorously.

That’s because the heat energy generated by friction between two adjacent muscles has nowhere else to dissipate except towards the outer surface of the skin where it gradually depletes toward colder ambient temperatures.

2. Additional arm protection

Arm sleeves serve another important purpose besides keeping the upper extremities warmer.

By providing additional padding, they also minimize impact forces acting upon the bones near the elbow joint.

 In other words, they create extra cushioning around the elbows.

Also, due to lack of direct pressure applied onto their bony landmarks (the radial head & coronoid), the ulnar nerve (which runs underneath the medial part of the humerus bone) doesn’t suffer much damage when compared to what happens when using non-protective gear.

3. They help relieve pain in the elbow joints

why basketball players wear sleeves - to relieve pain in the elbow joints

When the human brain senses a sudden acceleration or sharp change in speed while running or jumping, our bodies respond by sending signals to activate certain muscles to slow down or stop our movement completely.

When the signal reaches the muscular system located beneath the elbow, it sends painful messages to relax those specific muscles.

Because of this mechanism, whenever we run too fast or jump high off the ground, our elbows tend to lose control of their natural movements.

With no support from surrounding tissues, the bones become vulnerable to excessive shearing stress.

This results in inflammation and increased chances of tendon ruptures especially among young people who haven’t fully developed musculoskeletal systems yet.

Arm sleeves offer extra padding that protects the elbow joints from getting injured with every single move.

Not only does the fabric provide comfort by preventing rubbing, chafing and irritation, it also allows the elbow joints to rotate freely and smoothly throughout range of motion.

Wearing arm sleeves ensures better stability and reduces the risk of dislocation.

Furthermore, unlike cotton t-shirts that absorb sweat and soak wetness directly into the skin, the fabric used to manufacture arm sleeves remains dry right after laundering thus minimizing the possibility of bacterial growth.

4. Muscle compression which helps prevent swelling, fatigue and blood clots

Since the inner layer of the sleeve consists of thin polyester yarn, it creates little resistance to the flow of blood and lymphatic fluid passing through it.

On the other hand, the outside jersey fabric offers greater strength and compressive ability.

Therefore, the tight fit created by the sleeve restricts free circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids toward the heart.

Due to reduced supply of oxygen and nutrients to the skin cells, metabolism slows down to preserve cell viability.

At the same time, the absence of waste products causes accumulation of metabolic acidity resulting in extreme discomfort during rest periods.

Eventually, the build-up of lactic acid leads to formation of blisters and sores when the limb becomes exposed to constant contact with rough surfaces such as court courtside.

To avoid this problem, arm sleeves are recommended for players who participate in strenuous activities.

Compression garments lower blood lactate levels and blood pooling, both factors that can cause serious swelling that would be of huge detriment to your performance on the court.

In addition to protecting the underlying muscles, compression sleeves also apply firm external pressure to the arms.

This increases blood volume and improves circulation around the arm veins.

For players looking forward to extended games lasting several hours, this feature could potentially save them from feeling fatigued and exhausted before half-time.

5. Covering up tattoos on the arm

why basketball players wear sleeves - to cover up tattoos

Basketball players also wear arm sleeves to cover up any tattoos that they have on their skin.

This is because the NBA clearly prohibits players from showcasing any commercial or promotional marks on their bodies during games.

So, players put on the sleeves to cover up and effectively conceal their pieces of art.

One example involves Carmelo Anthony – an NBA basketballer who wears sleeves on both of his arms to hide some seriously crazy tattoos that he got when he was a Denver Nuggets player.

Who was the first basketball player to wear a sleeve?

Arm sleeves grew in popularity around 20 years ago when Allen Iverson regularly wore one to games.

Iverson had a condition called bursitis that affected his elbow and made playing without pain extremely difficult.

Because bursitis causes issues like muscle inflammation and joint irritation, his doctor recommended that he wear an arm sleeve whenever he was going to participate in an NBA game.

The sleeve did its job as it relieved Iverson of some of the pain that made his bursitis so difficult to manage, ultimately allowing him to dribble, pass and shoot on the court much more comfortably.

Now many fans wear the sleeves because it looked cool on Iverson!

Here’s a quick video that explains the history of the arm sleeve in more detail:

Do arm sleeves help you shoot better?

At first thought you’d probably think that there’s no way a piece of clothing such as this could possibly provide a basketball player with a performance advantage.

Well, think again!

Because arm sleeves supposedly improve a player’s shooting form by keeping the elbow straight whenever shooting movements commence.

More so, arm sleeves with good compression offer additional support and form correction which can help players improve their overall shooting percentages.

Whether that source can be backed up by another reputable publication remains to be seen, so you should still take the evidence provided with a pinch of salt.

Closing thoughts

That marks the end of this post on why basketball players wear sleeves.

If you’ve enjoyed the read, grab yourself a coffee and look through some of our other articles like why basketball players wear mouthguards or why basketballers chew gum on court.

About Samuel Waihenya

Samuel is an avid fan of basketball and has been following the sport for over 10 years. He now intends to dedicate his time to produce great content for his own little basketball blog that aims to help its readership with whatever basketball-related topic they can think of. Have a read through Samuel Waihenya's author bio page here.