Can tape heal sports injuries?
Kinesio tape appeared for many people, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Athletes were seen running around with brightly colored tape, attached in strange patterns on their body. The idea is that the tape, when applied to the appropriate places, can help reduce pain and improve healing.
Dr. Kenzo Kase originally developed the idea of kinesio taping in the 1970s. His idea was to use tape to "facilitate the body's natural healing process and prolong the benefits of his treatment after his patients left his clinic." Over the next decade he built a company that taught the kinesio taping method and began teaching people how to perform it. By 1988 he started selling the tape in stores while he worked to promote it around the world.
The marketing by the Kinesio company was inspired. They did two important things. The first was how they got it accepted by regular people. The kinesio taping idea was promoted from the top down. In 1997 it was "recognized at spring camp of 7 US Major League Baseball Teams." From there weekend athletes who followed baseball were exposed to the product and started asking about it.
In 2008 is was featured on several Olympic athletes. It's also made appearances in 2010 as a Ski & Snowboard Olympic Team Support, in 2012 as an Olympic support and in 2014 as a Sochi Olympic support.
Having professional athletes wear the tape was like getting a gold star of approval. Convince them, and their fans will follow. Many did.
The second brilliant move was to make the tape in a wide variety of colors. In the past if an athlete had a problem area, they would do anything they could to hide that weakness. Kinesio tape did just the opposite. It was a bold way of saying, “Look at me! I've got this injury, but I'm bravely pushing through.” It became a fashion statement.
While all the growth and promotion was going on, there was little research looking into the kinesio tape claims. According to the companies selling it, the tape can: Provide structural support to joints and muscles, correct improper muscle function, relieve pain from acute and chronic conditions, reduce swelling and inflammation, increase muscle tone, delay fatigue, improve endurance, accelerate healing and recovery after exercise and prevent overuse and over contraction of working muscles.
That's an impressive list! I was exposed to it in 2016 when an orthopedic surgeon diagnosed a signaling problem in my calf. When I went to physical therapy for treatments, my therapist suggested I try the tape. I figured, why not?
When the tape was applied, it made me focus very closely on the area that was taped. For the first 20-30 minutes, I walked, stood and sat exactly as the physical therapist had instructed. It was a powerful tool to keep my attention. But within an hour, it was no longer a novel feeling and I reverted back to my previous habits.
Researchers have found that the biggest benefit, seems to be in the initial application. In the first 20 minutes or so, it's a great way to remind people of how they need to move. But the tape itself, doesn't appear to have any therapeutic value. So far, no research has been able to point to a single biological or biomechanical process that the tape can change. That huge list of beneficial claims? Not one of them has been proven in a double-blind placebo controlled study.
At best, it's a clever neurological hack that can be used to remind people of what their physical therapist told them to do. That means you can do the same thing with any number of reminders. An alarm that goes off every hour with a message on your phone or a scarf tied around the problem area.
It's a clever way to help keep problem areas forefront in your mind. It also might look interesting before an athletic event. Just don't look for it to provide any direct therapeutic value.
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