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The Silent Star of the 2012 Olympics: Kinesio Tape

A local physical therapist talks to us about what this tool seen on athletes all over London is used for, and how effective it is.

Beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings wears kinesio tape on her right shoulder. It's also commonly used on athletes' backs and knees. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user cmaccubbin.

The Olympics have been entertaining and awe-inspiring—and in many cases, also confusing. Watching volleyball, diving, and track events particularly has left people wondering: What is that weird tape on everyone’s back, shoulders, and legs?

It’s kinesio tape—or physio tape, depending on whom you ask—and it’s meant to help stabilize loose joints and relieve strain on damaged soft tissue.

Physical therapist Robert Gillanders, who regularly treats athletes (mostly runners and triathletes) at Sport & Spinal Physical Therapy in DC’s Washington Circle, says the tape “can offload mechanical stress. For these people we see in the Olympics, it’s most likely being used for dynamic stability.”

Gillanders says while “the patterning looks crazy … usually it’s in line with the muscle underneath it that’s in dysfunction.” The tape provides what he calls “dynamic facilitation,” meaning that it helps activate injured or weak muscles so they move properly. Pain or swelling can sometimes cause muscles to turn off completely, which Gillanders says can cause instability—kinesio tape helps prevent that from happening.

But why not just use regular athletic tape? The biggest difference between kinesio tape and athletic tape, says Gillanders, is its elasticity. Athletic tape is static, but kinesio tape is flexible, so it can provide support without impeding movement.

Sounds great, right? But Gillanders cautions that it’s not a cure-all. “These athletes are getting treatment every day, all the time. We see the tape while they compete, but people shouldn’t think it’s working alone.” When coupled with other strengthening techniques, he says, he’s never seen a negative reaction. It’s not likely to hurt, but it may not work magic.

Gillanders says the tape works best for back, shoulder, and knee pain as well as Achilles tendonitis, which explains its overwhelming popularity among volleyball players, runners, and divers. It’s important to note, though, that without the guidance of a physical therapist, it’s unlikely the average person will apply it effectively.

And even with that guidance, the tape may not help drastically. Says Gillanders, “By itself, like many things, there’s value there. But it’s really best as part of a well-rounded routine.”

  • Dennis87

    StrengthTape works best for me! Sticks on you for soo long!

  • Dr. Linsay

    I love using KT on my athletes because it's elastic and doesn't restrict full range of motion. Traditional sports taping, in contrast, is only used for temporary rigid stabilization, prevents normal range of motion, and has the side effect of decreasing blood circulation during use. I explain more about how I use it on my website:

  • mj

    Some of my friends have actually tried this tape and it works temporarily. As Gillanders said, it's no magic. Of course, all other precautions should be made to avoid further muscle injury and to prevent it from coming.

  • Gb_bush

    KT Tape is the real deal. No snake oil, no smoke and mirrors. It's all explained on their website.

  • Nick1364

    Sure it is, just like the magnetic bracelets and the breath right strips you used to see athletes ware on their nose all the time. I bet by 2016 games this stuff will be gone because the athletes will realize it has no benefit what so ever.
    A sucker is born every minute.

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