If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you may be privy to the new trend in sports, which is to tape yourself up in bright, neon colors. There’s something different about this tape, though. Unlike other sports tapes, it isn’t being wrapped around a knee or foot to hold the joint in place. It’s simply being stuck to the skin.
It’s called Kinesio Tape and it’s supposed to alleviate pain and support muscle performance. It’s actually been around for more than 20 years, but the stuff has suddenly been thrust into the limelight with the 2012 London Olympics, where athletes have been sporting the neon-colored tape on shoulders, quads, abs, and backs. The company’s sudden notoriety is due to a smart marketing move four years ago at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the Kinesio Holding Corporation had the smooth idea to donate rolls of the tape to physical therapists handling the athletes.
Since the 2008 Olympics, Kinesio Taping’s sales have gone up 300%, and the taping technique has moved beyond Olympians to mainstream sports athletes, like Lance Armstrong and the Greenbay Packers.
The science is a little vague, but the anecdotal evidence is plentiful. The tape was invented by Japanese chiropractor and acupuncturist Dr. Kenzo Kase, who was reportedly frustrated with stuff athletic tapes and wraps that were used to keep a joint immobilized. Kase theorized that the joint itself was not the problem; the real issue was the muscle around the joint. He developed Kinesio Tape with the texture and elasticity of real human tissue to be used to stabilize the muscle, which would in turn correct the joint.
The method of taping depends on the size of the muscle, a company spokesperson tells me. If it’s a larger muscle, like the deltoid, you can tape around the belly of the muscle for support. If it’s a smaller muscle, like the quadriceps femoris, you can apply the tape directly over the muscle.
The company, which has a committee of 22 academic and medical experts who provide advice and mentoring to independent researchers, says there are roughly a quarter of a million practitioners worldwide who have received some sort of training in Kinesio Taping. The Kinesio Taping Association itself has trained over 100,000 therapists and has sold hundreds of thousands of books and manuals on Kinesio Taping techniques.
Does it really work? The research is mixed. One study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found no difference in thigh muscle strength of healthy, non-injured athletes before or after using Kinesio Tape. Meanwhile, another study published by the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found a “statistically significant” improvement in upper limb function when Kinesio Tape was used as a rehabilitation therapy on recently injured children.
Chalk it up to one of those things that works for some and not for others, like acupuncture, amber teething necklaces, or positive thinking. Either way, it can’t hurt.
Image source: fitasaphysio.com