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Kinesio Tape for Athletes: A Big Help, or Hype?

Are there medical benefits to the strips of tape used by many Olympic athletes?

Experts Skeptical continued...

Philip Newton, physiotherapist and director of Lilleshall Sports Injury Rehab, agrees the benefits may be in the mind: "My view is that Kinesio tape probably has a significant placebo effect," he says in an email. "The placebo effect is not fully understood but it is generally accepted that any treatment/intervention will elicit a placebo response, which has complex cultural and contextual elements."

He says the design helps, too: "I believe that part of the genius behind the phenomenal commercial success of Kinesio taping was the idea to manufacture it in highly visible colors. This is in contrast to the traditional colors used for traditional types of tape/bandage.

"Many sports performers have historically chosen to hide any strapped areas of their bodies so as not to advertise any areas of potential physical weakness. In stark contrast, many contemporary sports people do exactly the opposite with Kinesio tape. It seems that for many it is a badge of honor.

"Maybe some wear it as a means of explaining away any possible future failures or defeats? Or maybe they want to demonstrate that they have the grit and determination to push through the adversity of injury."

Kinesio Taping by Physiotherapists

Gavin Daglish is a physiotherapist at Mike Varney Physiotherapy in Harlow, Essex, U.K. How effective does he find Kinesio tape? "Really, really effective," he says. "I've found it to give, not instant, but over the next 24-48 hours, to give fairly good pain relief."

It's not just athletes he's used the tape on: "I've used it on a 45-year-old builder who's got lower back pain. It's actually quite effective with it.

"I've also found it effective on a 16-year-old with anterior knee pain because he does a lot of sport. That's been really effective."

How does he think it works? "It was designed to run with the contours of the skin," Gavin says. "It allows free movement of lymphatic fluid. It reduces friction between the tissues in the skin.

"It also helps with the movement of blood and lactic acid. It takes the tension off certain muscles."

Can people put it on themselves? "Generally you need someone qualified," he says, but a physiotherapist can teach athletes how to tape themselves.

Jeremy Parker is a physiotherapist at Six Physio in Central London. "I get great results with it," he says.

He admits the way the tape works hasn't been fully shown by research, however: "The elasticity of it lifts the skin very slightly to allow a little bit better circulation through."

He's used it to tone muscles down, to take some of the tension out of the muscle, as well as in ways designed to stimulate affected areas.

Do athletes feel the tape is there? "It's a very subtle thing," Parker says. "Because the tape is so elastic, it moves with you." The feeling is different to traditional taping, he says: "The athlete can move naturally without this constant feeling that something's pulling them in a certain way."

Reviewed on July 03, 2012

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