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Laura Ludwing wears Kinesio tape during a women's beach volleyball
match on July 31, 2012, during the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Sports injuries are as much a part of the Olympic Games as gold medals and doping allegations.
when pain strikes, many athletes in London turn to a conspicuous
crutch: Kinesio, a soft and stretchy cotton tape available in neon hues.
You've likely seen it adorning the bulging quadriceps, shoulders and
abs of athletes on television.
But apart from being a flashy, sporty fashion statement of sorts, does this stuff actually help athletes perform better? Michael Good, international director of the Kinesio Holding Corporation,
unsurprisingly, says yes. The tape was designed by Kenzo Kase, a
Japanese chiropractor and acupuncturist, to support injured muscles,
increase range of motion, and decrease muscle pain. The Kinesio website claims
Kase was frustrated with the rigid athletic tapes on the market and
felt his patients needed something with "a texture and elasticity very
close to living human tissue."
Good says the tape has been used in Olympic competition since 1988, it
got a big boost when the company donated rolls to physical therapists to
use on athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
As Olympic athletes plastered in bright blue stripes danced across
screens around the world, the company soon watched its online sales
Now athletes ranging from the Green Bay Packers to Lance Armstrong swear by the stuff, and some independent research supports the athletes' loyalty. A 2008 study
of college-aged patients with rotator cuff tendonitis, a shoulder
injury, noted improved range of motion and less pain when Kinesio tape
was applied as directed.
sports performance researchers think the company might be making lofty
medical claims for what is, essentially, a piece of sticky cloth. A
February 2012 review
of existing Kinesio research concluded that "there was little quality
evidence to support the use of [Kinesio tape] over other types of
elastic taping in the management or prevention of sports injuries."
Results from actual patients in the clinic are pretty inconsistent too, says Amy Powell,
an associate professor of sports medicine at the University of Utah
School of Medicine. Powell is also on the board of directors for the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.
the clinic] it seems to be that there is a set of people [with shoulder
injuries] who respond well, but it could also be the idea that any kind
of tape would offer them structural support in the shoulder," Powell
says. She also says that the tape doesn't work for every ache and pain,
including her own Achilles tendon injury.
says she thinks the tape can be useful, but it probably isn't the
miracle worker Kinesio claims it can be. "This is one of those Band-Aid
kind of things; it will allow [athletes] to do their physical therapy to
get back to their athletic activities more quickly," she says. "I think
the company advertises it as more of a cure, but I see it as more of an
aid. If things like Kinesio tape can aid rehab, then that's great,
that's one of our goals."
admits that the science hasn't caught up with the anecdotal evidence and
the results that athletes have seen with Kinesio tape. But Powell says
that in the athletic community, a lack of hard evidence may not even
"Anything that [athletes]
perceive as an edge, they'll try, whether it's scientific or not. And
the athletes are convinced that [Kinesio tape] is really helpful," she
says. "It wouldn't be the worst placebo in the world; it's not doing any
More Olympians in London
wearing the tape won't do the company's revenue any harm either. Good
says sales are up 300 percent since 2008.
Kinesio tape has caught the eye of many an
Olympic viewer the last two weeks — covering the muscles of volleyball
players, javelin throwers, even swimmers. It was invented decades ago by
a Japanese chiropractor. Athletes say it eases muscle strain and allows
healing, but research has yet to prove the effectiveness of the tape.
Melissa Block talks with Amy Powell, a sports medicine doctor at the
University of Utah about the tape.