Watching all the fabulous sport this summer, it was impressive to see how many athletes were decorated with brightly coloured strips of tape. The use of kinesio tape has become widespread over recent years, but it first appeared way back in the 1970’s. It is claimed that the use of this tape can help reduce swelling and pain, stabilise joints and support muscles. The tape is available in different thicknesses (which are different colours), and is applied in a specific way to the problem area. It stretches with the body, so movement isn’t overly restricted. The theory is that the tape lifts the skin and promotes the flow of lymphatic fluid under the skin. You can now buy pre-cut sections of the tape to allow you to try this technique out yourself, rather than having to go to a physiotherapist and pay to have it applied.
I tried it myself last summer as an alternative to a bulky back support when I was competing in an adventure race. It helped give me confidence that my back would be OK during the race, as I was aware the strapping was giving me support. However, it didn’t feel like a miracle cure for my muscle strain; following the race, I was still stiff and sore.
Sports Medicine published a meta-analysis of ten studies investigating the use of Kinesio tape earlier last year. They found only limited benefits to using the taping technique, including improving muscle strength and range of motion for people with certain injuries. No strong evidence has yet been generated that supports the use of this tape above any other taping technique.
A study was published in 2011 that examined the effect of Kinesio tape on patellofemoral pain syndrome (sometimes known as runner’s knee). 22 women with patellofemerol pain syndrom (PFPS) were randomised into two groups; one that received kinesiotaping and one that received placebo taping. Immediately following the taping procedure, the participants were assessed in terms of muscle strength, propioception (awareness of joint position), balance and pain. No significant differences were found between the two groups.
In absence of any strong scientific rationale to support the choice of Kinesio tape, it could be argued that other factors have led to its widespread use. The bright colours and distinctive patterns of the tape make it look cool compared to the boring skin-coloured varieties of tape. Kinesio tape is a marketing triumph; it has developed a really strong brand image in recent years. As long as professional athletes such as Novak Djokovic continue to embrace this technique, it is likely that its use will continue to increase in the general population as well. In spite of what the evidence says…