Kinesio Tape: Fad or Phenomenon?

If you’ve watched any of the 2012 Olympic Games over the past week, you cannot have missed what looks like an explosion of colorful and creatively-inspired Kinesio taping on the bodies of athletes from all sports. Kinesio tape was developed in 1973 by a Japanese doctor but finally gained popularity outside of Asia when it was handed out to 58 countries at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Since then, it has become ubiquitous at international sporting events, despite limited scientific evidence that it is more effective than traditional rehabilitation techniques and amid concerns among some in the medical world that athletes and non-athletes alike may put so much trust in the tape that they do not sufficiently rest injured muscles.

Kinesio tape is said to create “space between the epidermis and dermis, enabling a better flow of blood and lymphatic fluids,” allowing for “excessive heat that can damage” the body to be shunted away more efficiently.[1] Its developer, Dr. Kenzo Kase, also claims that the tape can: (1) correct muscle function by strengthening weakened muscles, (2) improve the circulation of blood and lymph by eliminating fluid in the tissues or bleeding beneath the skin by moving the muscle, (3) reduce pain through neurological suppression, (4) reposition subluxated joints by relieving abnormal muscle tension, helping to restore the function of fascia and muscle, and (5) increase proprioception by  increasing stimulation to mechanoreceptors located in the skin.[2] However, even true believers in the tape, such as UK distributor and Kinesio taping trainer Kevin Anderson, say “there’s nothing magic about the tape” and that it does not improve muscle strength. And Anderson admitted to The Guardian that research on the tape has indeed lagged far behind the upsurge in its use.

Studies on the efficacy of Kinesio tape are inconsistent and most have not involved randomized controlled trials, which are the standard in medical research; but a February 2012 meta-analysis (an evaluation of studies to date) found “little quality evidence to support the use of [Kinesio tape] over other types of elastic taping,” though it cited case studies and anecdotal evidence as sufficient to warrant further “well designed experimental research.”[3] Based on these recent investigations, it is safe to say that there is modest support, at best, for the claims made by Dr. Kase. And in the UK, a complaint has been lodged with – and upheld by – the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), against claims made on the kinesiotaping.co.uk website, including assertions that the tape, “removes lymphatic fluid congestion, improves kinesthetic awareness,” and that it can “substantially aid sufferers of Lymphadema.” Such claims concern some because they seem to be directed beyond the world of sports, for example to people facing post-surgical complications, and after a review of the evidence used to substantiate such claims, the ASA has ordered that they be removed from the kinesiotaping.co.uk site.[4]

But, even if Kinesio tape’s most significant effect is that of a placebo, some experts say that this psychological advantage “could make all the difference between success and failure” for elite athletes.[5] Some of those athletes and their trainers swear by the tape – called “bloody brilliant” by British physiotherapist Paul Hobrough – because they say it allows them to treat and train with injuries that would previously have kept them off the track, pitch, field, or court for several days. And so, whether it is fad or phenomenon, expect to see plenty more Kinesio taping at the Olympics and beyond.


[1] Patrick Barkham, “Kinesio tape: the latest must-have treatment for sports injuries,” The Guardian, July 29, 2012,  http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jul/29/magic-tape-treatment-sports-injuries (accessed August 3, 2012).

[2]
Carrie Rayette Hendrick, “The Therapeutic Effects of Kinesio™ Tape on A Grade I Lateral Ankle Sprain” (PhD dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 2010). Available at: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-12152010-124004/unrestricted/Hendrick_CR_D_2010.pdf (accessed August 3, 2012).

[3]
Williams, et al., “Kinesio taping in treatment and prevention of sports injuries: a meta-analysis of the evidence for its effectiveness,” Abstract, Sports Medicine 42, no. 2 (153-64), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22124445 (accessed August 3, 2012).

[4]
“ASA Adjudication on LimbVolume Ltd,” Advertising Standards Authority, http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2012/7/LimbVolume-Ltd/SHP_ADJ_165319.aspx (accessed August 3, 2012).

[5]
Kate Kelland, “Olympics-Scientist skeptical as athletes get all taped up,” Reuters, July 31, 2012,http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/31/oly-science-tape-day-idUSL6E8IV57020120731 (accessed August 3, 2012).

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