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Tape Therapy

You may have seen it on Serena Williams at Wimbledon or at the Australian Open. Other professional athletes like Lance Armstrong, David Beckham and Kerri Walsh are also fans of it. They?re not alone. And if you were wondering what all the stuff stuck to athletes was during the Summer Games, we’ve got your answer.

Kinesio tape or “magic tape,” as Armstrong called it in Every Second Counts, was all the rage at the Olympics — spotted on shoulders, legs, backs, stomachs – even bottoms. This flexible and colorful tape has not only become a fashion statement with its elaborate patterns, but some find it a useful treatment for bruising, muscle and joint dysfunction and scars. While white tape or McConnell tape is rigid, Kinesio or K-tape stretches and eliminates pressure placed on the wound. K-tape can also be worn for up to five days. 

Light, latex free and water resistant, users find that it allows full body movement and increases blood circulation — a therapy for use during rehabilitation. Because the tape is malleable, it lifts the skin, which limits skin irritations and may help one heal quickly.

First created in the mid-1970s, K-tape has been around for more than 30 years. Designed by Japanese practitioner Dr. Kenzo Kase to treat sumo wrestlers, the tape was developed to mimic human skin and have the same elasticity as human muscle. Kase wanted to create a take-home therapy for athletes to care for their sports injuries in between doctor visits.Nearly all medical conditions from tennis elbow to neurological problems can be treated with Kase?s invention. In fact, ?85 percent of the taping is not athletic,? Dr. Scott Hainz said. 

But it?s professional athletes that have put it on the map. The rush for athletes to add this accessory to their wardrobe increased after U.S. volleyball player Kerri Walsh sported it at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This year, Kase?s company supplied Olympians with 6,000 feet of tape — for free.

While many athletes are K-tape supporters, some doctors remain skeptical of its effect.  Evidence of its efficacy is minimal.  A lot of research papers point to the placebo effect and suggest that its ability to reduce pain and increase muscle strength is limited. Yet, some tape manufacturers like RockTape continue to promote its product as improving athletic performance. Other companies claim K-tape decreases pain and swelling, but there is no scientific proof. Only athletes can testify to the tape?s healing properties, which for some people, is not enough. Still, in a 2009 study of 41 patients with whiplash after car accidents, statistics showed ?significant pain relief and improvements in range of motion? with K-tape when compared to other tape.

Even Dr. Kase acknowledges that more scientific research must be done to prove reductions in pain and swelling: ?We need more evidence. We do not have research reports. Part of the reason people are using Kinesio tape is to find the science.”  It seems that some athletes don?t need scientific facts. Sales have gone up 300 percent since 2008. 

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