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Kinesio Taping - The Latest Sports Fad PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dr. Steven Novella   

Famous athletes, whether professional or amateur, are symbols of talent, skill, hard work, and dedication. During the Olympics, for example, we often marvel at the many years of incredible sacrifice and persistent training that it takes for any athlete to get to the Olympic Games, let alone contend for a medal.

Unfortunately, athletes have also become a symbol for something else - gullibility, superstition, and exploitation. While watching sporting events you are likely to see athletes sporting the latest pseudoscientific device that is meant to give them a performance edge. Even worse - many athletes become paid shills for these bogus devices, using their fame and success to sell snake oil.  

Over the years we have seen athletes wearing copper bracelets, those little tabs across the bridge of their nose, and those magical rubber and plastic wrist bands. All useless.  

Now the 2012 Summer Olympic Games is bringing to prominence the latest fad in competitive nonsense - so-called Kinesio Tape. Many athletes are decorated with colorful strips of tape arranged in interesting patterns across their muscles.

According to the Kinesio website

"The Kinesio Taping Method is designed to facilitate the body’s natural healing process while allowing support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting the body’s range of motion. It is used to successfully treat a variety of orthopedic, neuromuscular, neurological and medical conditions. Both Kinesio® Tex Tape and the training protocol have shown results that would have been unheard of using older methods and materials."  

Essentionally, strips of elastic tape are placed over muscles that are injured or strained. The tape is meant to support the muscles, improve blood flow, reduce injury, and improve performance. Dr. Kenzo Kase has apparently been developing Kinesio tape since the mid 1970's. So he has had over 30 years to conduct research and convince the medical community that the above claims have merit.  

However, there has been very little research into Kinesio taping. The Kinesio website contains a list of research - mostly small pilot studies of dubious design and outcomes, and small case series. There is little well designed research substantiating any of the claims made for this product and technique.  

The published literature is likewise scant. A 2012 review of Kinesio tape for the treatment of sports injuries concluded:  

"In conclusion, there was little quality evidence to support the use of KT over other types of elastic taping in the management or prevention of sports injuries. KT may have a small beneficial role in improving strength, range of motion in certain injured cohorts and force sense error compared with other tapes, but further studies are needed to confirm these findings."  

A recent study of Kinesio taping for healthy subjects found:  

"Application of KT to RF, VL and VM muscles did not significantly change lower limb function, postural balance, knee extensor peak torque or electromyographic activity of VL muscle in healthy women."  

Bottom line - There is surprisingly little research to show for the last 30 years, and what does exist is preliminary and generally negative. This is typical, however, for dubious products or techniques developed by a "lone genius" who then appears to spend most of their time and effort promoting their product rather than studying it to see if it really works.  

Kinesio tape, in my opinion, is also an example of a common feature of pseudoscientific medical devices - they provide some small non-specific benefit that is irrelevant to the specific and elaborate application. In the case of sports injuries, bracing and wrapping the injured limb or joint is often helpful. It can provide support and take some strain off the injured muscle, ligament, or joint. Wrapping may also provide some heat that is helpful for sore or tight muscles.  

You will find, therefore, many devices that are essentially braces but with an added and useless component that mainly serves for marketing. Magnets, for example, often come in pads and braces.  

In this case the Kinesio taping seems to work as well as a basic Ace bandage. People seem to have been reinventing the bandage over and over again.  

Colorful strips adorning athletes are likely to be seen for years to come - until the next useful fad comes along. Articles discussing such devices often conclude by saying that these devices, even if they are physiologically useless, provide a psychological advantage to athletes. Even if it's only the "placebo effect", the belief that they have an edge is enough to improve performance.  

This may be true, but I am not really convinced. World-class athletes perform at the upper limit of human ability and are remarkably consistent. A little placebo effect is unlikely to put them on the medal stand.

 

Steven Novella, M.D. is the JREF's Senior Fellow and Director of the JREF’s Science-Based Medicine project.

Dr. Novella is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society and the host and producer of the popular weekly science show, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. He also authors the NeuroLogica Blog.

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written by KrDa, August 04, 2012
This article is just spot on!

No question about tape bracing an elbow, a knee or a wrist is useful especially if you are a shot putter, a handball player or something like that. The funny thing about the kinesio tape is that it's often not bracing such weak joints but instead just sticks to a open area of skin.
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written by Peebs, August 04, 2012
Would they be the strange strips of tape some of the Olympic divers were wearing?


The ones I noticed seemed to follow the lines of the Spinus Erectus muscles.

They actually looked about as much use as a fishnet condom!
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written by MadScientist, August 04, 2012
In many international sports, if something is believed to offer an advantage (it does not necessarily have to be beneficial in reality) it will be regulated. The fact that no sporting body regulates these gizmos is a pretty good indication that there is no benefit.
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written by One Eyed Jack, August 05, 2012
The placebo effect cannot be casually tossed aside.

At levels of competition where first and second are decided by hundredths of a second, any small effect matters. If an athlete believes their gimmick, woo, or god helps them, then it does.

However, it doesn't mean the product works any more than wearing a pair of lucky socks.
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Placebo
written by stag, August 05, 2012
The song of the Olympics is "I believe". Clearly that includes coloured tape.
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Placebo
written by EarlyOut, August 05, 2012
It's amazing how many variations on Dumbo's magic feather people can come up with.
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written by garyg, August 06, 2012
written by james890, August 05, 2012
Never believed in the magic of Kinesio Tapes (KinesioTaping.hk) since it appeared back in 2008 until I tried it after an injury, it does seem to work and the pain is a lot less afterwards. If you use it together with the ice treatment, it is amazing.

Don't you understand, then, that it was the ice, not the tape? The standard treatment for a sports injury is RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation
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What's in a placebo...
written by CriticalSkeptic, August 06, 2012
Whether placebos like this tape are an indicator of gullibility or comfort, I think it's worth realizing that there are at least two kinds of such mental tricks people play:

For people who 'wear their lucky socks' it's simply an indicator of their need to have a bit of comfort and potentially a funny story to mention. None of these people actually believes it makes a difference in their performance. In fact, they feel that with every performance this item gets somehow imbued, for them only, with pedigree and since they can't bring their best friend to a performance, this has to be an acceptable alternative.

On the other hand, comfort is now what people seek when they suspend their thinking to allow wide-eyed woo-peddlers to sell them impossible claims of medical miracles. They seek an artificial edge. They want to believe that this 'thing' is giving it to them. And yes, it's fine, because they're at the Olympics and we're not. But telling the world that they got there by embracing ignorance should be at least a little embarrassing to them and their families. Naturally, that doesn't compare with the pride and accomplishment of being an Olympic athlete and we should have nothing but admiration for them, but now that they're on the world stage, they should realize that they have a certain responsibility to NOT promote ignorance but instead to encourage achievement.

And what could be better than to say, like Bolt does, "I'm the best. Naturally." Instead of implying that they got the edge by using some coloured tape that only a 2-year old would otherwise believe has magical powers (since the medical effect - entirely apart from being unproven - makes no sense whatsoever to anyone with a basic anatomical knowledge).

Naturally, along with the exposure of this scam we should look at acupuncture, cupping, reflexology and other forms of quackery but to conclude I'd like to draw our attention to the inevitable real danger of injury clearly illustrated in Olympic weightlifting, which depends so much on a complete awareness of every part of the body. One might be tempted to say 'ah but the added tightness is at least as good as no tape at all since it draws attention to that potentially sensitive body part'. But that's not the case. This tape is not like a weight belt, on which you can rely to keep your guts in under heavy lifting. These are all compound exercises, where every muscle's degree of contraction must be carefully balanced with every other. Superficial tightness may alter the athlete's perception and throw off that sensitive balance. A false sense of security under this kind of strain can cause irreparable damage to the athlete and their career.

It's interesting that if an athlete just misses their mark or somehow underperforms, the tape will never be blamed. But if they succeed, ahh.. first amongst equals! That bright, fluorescent tape MUST have made the difference between winning and losing. Far be it of anyone to ever doubt its efficacy when an Olympic athlete sees it fit to wear on the podium!

But for those who lose their edge because they take the focus off themselves and place their trust - even momentarily - in this kind of product, therapy or other woo, perhaps it isn't worth the gains in coolness and fashion flair after all.
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written by bekkison, August 11, 2012
I've seen Kinesio Tape being used in physical therapy clinics, but not in the ways advertised. They use the tape to create tension that reminds a patient when their posture, or foot alignment is incorrect. The feeling of tension reminds the patient to correct themselves without having to always be looking in a mirror. The advantage over bracing is that it forces the patient to engage the muscles, strengthening them over time. Bracing prevents incorrect movement, but also removes the need for the muscles to engage and that can lead to further atrophy. The clinic I volunteer at only uses it for this facilitative purpose.

We had a girl with a lumbar spinal concussion and she was having sever gait issues. Her legs were internally rotating, and she was over pronating on heel strike, and under pronating as she moved to toe off. Essentially landing her foot on the outside of the heel and rolling all the way around the inside edge. Trying to get this 11 year old to focus on all the things she needed to correct was overwhelming to her and she was getting frustrated. While fixing the girl's leg in the correct position the therapist added some kinesio tape from the back of her hip to the medial part of her knee. They also added some to the ankle. The facilitative tension made the girl drastically improve her gait. It wasn't a cure by any means, but the girl was responding to the tension and was able to engage the necessary muscles to remove the tension. It allowed the correct gait to feel right to her because she had a point of reference to focus on instead of verbal feedback.

I've also seen it used in patients with shoulder impingement. One component of impingement is poor posture when we roll our shoulders forward. They add a little tension tape to the back and it helps remind the patient to sit up straight.

Now I realize that these stories are anecdotal, but I would love to see some research in this direction instead of testing the ridiculous claims made by the company that makes it. The sports fad aspect is unfortunate, but I think the tape can have some good applications in the rehab setting.
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written by Peebs, August 11, 2012
Fair point about the use of tape to improve gait.

But I've used bog standard 'Elastoplast'(EP)strapping to achieve the same effect.

I've also used Zinc Oxide tape for the same reasons, but this lacks elasticity so only used on ligament injuries. EP was more useful for musculoskeletal injuries.
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