Olympic athletes are crazy about body tape, but does it work?

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On

If you've watched even a few minutes of the 2012 Olympics, you may have noticed a new trend in athletic gear — yes, that is neon-coloured athletic tape wrapped around the taut muscles of some of the world's best athletes. Is it for appearances? Is it a fad?

Nope, it's called Kinesio Tape and, according to Reuters, was developed by Dr. Kenzo Kase more than 30 years ago. If applied correctly, the tape can supposedly reduce muscle pain by adding or relieving pressure to a muscle, depending on what's needed. But despite its ubiquitous use at these Olympic Games, hard research on the benefits of Kinesio tape is pretty slim, says Reuters.

A study review from the Sports Medicine journal in February,  finds "little quality evidence to support the use of Kinesio tape over other types of elastic taping in the management or prevention of sports injuries."

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That, however, hasn't stopped some of Canada's top sports medicine professionals from raving about its benefits.

"It can have a pretty profound affect on relieving painful muscle activity and can be very effective at reducing adema (swelling) from an injury," says Richard McIlmoyle, a chiropractor and owner of Achieve Health in Victoria.

McIlmoyle says the tape is unique in that it stretches in length, but not width. Also, channels run on the underside of it, so the adhesive is not continuous across it.

"That allows it to say on during an event," he says. "When you sweat, the sweat can go through these channels and escape the tape, as opposed to being trapped underneath it, which causes the adhesive to come off, like traditional sports tape," he explains.

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So how does Kinesio Tape work?

"You basically use it to create tension on the skin," he says. "And because it has a directionality to the way you can stretch it, it creates a lift of the cutaneous tissues over the subcutaneous tissues."

He explains that subcutaneous tissues is where your body drains fluid from painful swollen muscles. Therefore, the theory with the tape is that is allows the draining of swollen muscles.

But McIlmoyle believes using Kinesio tape may have an additional benefit, one that warrants further exploration.

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He suggests the tape may be able to set muscle tone, as well. McIlmoyle points to recent studies that have shown receptors in the skin (called ruffini nerve endings) -- which are stimulated when the skin is being stretched -- may play a bigger role in setting muscle tone than previously thought.

"A lot of therapy that we use creates a shear force across the skin. Kinesio tape does the same thing. And so — and this is just my conjecture — there's probably a neurological effect from stimulating these receptors that has an ability to change muscles tone," he says.

As a matter of fact, during a course on how to use the tape properly, McIlmoyle says participants were asked to pull the tape along a neck muscle in one direction to inhibit the muscle, thereby decreasing the muscle tone, and in the other direction to increase the tone of the muscle.

"Most people couldn't have the tape on their neck for longer than two minutes because the tension starts to build up in the muscles and it becomes very uncomfortable," he says. "So it was a good demonstration of how effective this tape can be. It changes the tones of muscle."

Watch the video below about a new exercise bike as shown by Olympic athlete and trainer, Annabelle Rosemurgy.