During the last couple weeks of the Olympics, perhaps you’ve noticed the pink, green, purple or blue tape plastered over the legs, backs, arms and other body parts of athletes. It could be one of the most universal of Olympic accessories this year, making appearances in what seems to be almost every sport. It has been seen in diving, track, volleyball, Judo and even table tennis.
Here are just a few examples:
Rest assured though, the athletes aren’t falling apart at the seams. The tape is meant to help stabilize their tendons and joints and provide pressure relief.
TheBlaze spoke with medical professionals about what appears to be the quickly growing trend of kinesiology tape (or kinesio tape), which was developed 30 years ago.
Dr. David Kruse, a board-certified sports medicine physician at Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, Calif., who was a member of the USA Gymnastics Senior National Team and now serves as a physician for the men’s national team, said the Olympics themselves have been seeing the tape more since 2008.
“[It] seems like all of a sudden now since [we] have a mass collection of athletes from around the world at the Olympic games,” Kruse said in an email to TheBlaze. “What you’re seeing is an increase in international use as well.”
Kinesio tape mimics what some braces can do, but it is more lightweight, flexible and can applied where some braces clearly cannot. Several companies manufacture the highly elastic tape, including the company Kinesiology Tape, which states that the product “provides targeted pain relief by relieving pressure and increasing circulation to help speed recovery.”
Dr. Jennifer Hanes, a board-certified emergency and forensic physician in Austin, Texas, told TheBlaze that, when applied correctly, the tape is meant to mimic the anatomy and physiology of the joints and muscles it is targeting. She noted a number of studies have found the tape improves range of motion — something she has seen in her practice as well. She said there are no conclusive studies showing that it can improve healing though. Like many, Hanes said the tape is not meant to be a permanent fix but a “short solution.”
Dr. Stephen Estner who owns three chiropractic practices in the Providence, Rhode Island, area said his patients have experienced some pain relief from using the tape, which he has found to last five to six days through normal activities.
Other physicians have expressed the differing views in the medical community regarding the effectiveness of the tape. According to a recent story by the Today show, some say the tape’s benefits are only in theory:
“It’s cotton tape that has some sort of adhesive that mimics the elasticity of the skin,” says Dr. Aaron Mares, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at UPMC Sports Medicine and associate team physician for the University of Pittsburgh football team.
“[Kinesio tape] is not something that harms the patients. If athletes feel this may help benefit them from a performance standpoint, I have no problems with them trying it,” says Mares.
Today reports orthopedic surgeon David Geier saying the tape wouldn’t improve structural damage, like tears.
“After all, it’s tape,” Geier said.
Hanes told TheBlaze that although the tape can be a good tool, it’s really only useful for a “small subset of the population.”
“My advice usually is, if your paycheck depends upon it, absolutely use it,” she said.
For more recreational athletes or those considering the tape due to injuries from general exercise, Hanes said it could actually make their situation worse.
“I would say if you’re in the middle of an event and a trainer tapes you, that’s fantastic,” Hanes said. “If you have time to think about it and then go buy it, [...] you need to be looking for other solutions.”
Hanes explained those using the tape in order to maintain their general fitness routine should be looking at strength training for specific areas that need it or changing the sport they’re doing instead.
Kruse expressed a similar view saying it should only be used on a case-by-case basis and only under professional guidance.
Watch this WLWT clip where a physical therapist with certification in kinesio tape therapy explains its uses and the importance of proper application for its correct function:
The tape was developed three decades ago by Japanese chiropractor Kenso Kaze and seems to have grown exponentially in use in recent years. The Guardian reported that thousands of healthcare professionals are now taking taping classes.
Hanes said her experience in applying the tape comes from knowledge of the body’s anatomy and physiology and training from someone who was experienced with it. Kruse said if the tape were not applied appropriately for the injury type it was targeted to treat, it would act as a placebo.
With the tape making a full-fledged appearance at this summer’s Olympics, The Guardian reports University of Bedfordshire sports professor John Brewer saying he doesn’t know if the tape will still be adorning athletes bodies five years from now. Kruse said though that while there are a lot of techniques in sports medicine that come and go, he believe the tape will stick around but will most likely be improved in its form and application as it is used more often.
Estner said with the tape improving range of motion, he thinks we’ll continue to see it at major sporting events as well.
“We’re dealing with peak performance here with Olympians,” Estner said. “If there is an edge to be had, it is going to go viral. Athletes at this level have to maximize every part of their body and if anything is lacking . . . it could be the difference between medals.”
This story has been updated since its original posting to include more information.