Kinesiology tape (or kinesio tape) has been spotted on many an Olympian at London this year–the most notable example has probably been German volleyball player Katrin Holtwick‘s blue tape arrangement over her torso. Although varying kinds of tape have been used in sports for a long time (think: ankle wraps and taped-up foot sprains), the fluorescent colors and odd placement on athletes’ bodies are new, and have been getting it a lot of attention this year. Which is making a lot of people wonder: Is the blue tape a fashion statement, or is it helping athletes perform?
Alan H. Beyer, M.D., Executive Medical Director of Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California, says it’s probably both. The tape that you’re seeing on athletes like Holtwick is a relatively new invention and, he says, it’s not 100% sure whether it’s providing a real boost to athletes’ performance:
Kinesio Tape is flexible, waterproof tape applied to the skin to reduce pain and not limit flexibility in athletes and patients with muscle strains. It differs from traditional taping for sprains (ligament injuries) which is used to provide support. There is limited scientific evidence that it has true value, and many say its effects are placebo-like and psychological rather than physiological. Many of the physical therapists in our area use it to treat patients who wish to return to sports before their injury has completely healed.
He explains that Olympic-level athletes commonly suffer a much larger number of strains than the average athlete, but given the high pressure of their events, they’re kind of willing to try anything, which is why it’s been spotted all over London:
It is seen so much in the Olympics because athletes performing at this level have a huge number of strains and only have this 17 day window to perform what they have been practicing four years to do, so they will use any conceivable, legal method to help them do their best!
So, what’s with Katrin Holtwick’s blue tape? Beyer says it could be helping her relieve abdominal strain…or just making her feel better:
Holtwick’s stomach taping is designed to protect her abdominal muscles from a strain that she obviously suffered. Looks kinda cute…Effectiveness? Whatever works for her!
According to Forbes.com, the tape’s inventor, Dr. Kevin Jardine, thinks the tape is user-friendly that even the every-day athlete could benefit from trying it at home: “Kinesiology tape has traditionally been known to be used in a clincical setting[...]We are now seeing the end-user being able to access the benefits of kinesiology tape directly themselves.”
But unless you’re competing in a high-stakes event (hey, we’re the first to acknowledge how important it is to run that marathon you’ve been training for all summer), the smarter choice seems to be giving yourself time to recover from serious injuries or strains…If the tape helps in the process, or makes you feel slightly more fashionable, then great!