A few weeks ago, I was reminded of how popular kinesiology tape is.
I was watching the football playoffs, American football that is, with some friends.
One of my friends turned to me and asked, “What’s up with that bright strip stuck to some of the players’ skins?” He was referring to what basically looked like fluorescent duct tape on the players’ arms.
It was a close game and I was hyper-focused on the TV, so without taking my eyes off the TV, I replied, “It’s called ‘kinesiology tape’.” He asked, “What’s that? Is it supposed to do anything?” Still without making eye contact (hey, I said it was a close game!), I quickly muttered, “Well, it’s supposed to help improve performance.”
I wasn’t quite in the mood to have a full discussion about it since I was so distracted by the game on the TV, but in hindsight, I could have been a bit more informative with my responses and acted less irritated. As expected, my friend followed up with, “Well… does it help?”
What is the Point of Kinesio Tape?
At the moment, I could only remember seeing 1 published study on the effectiveness of kinesiology tape on athletic performance, and it was published a few years ago. The authors of the study found that kinesiology tape didn’t improve performance in the athletes they studied. And that’s what I told him. More specifically, when he asked me whether it helps, I replied, “Probably not.”
These questions prompted me to dig a bit deeper into this topic and see if anything new had been published since. It reminded me that I had also been meaning to research whether kinesiology tape helps with pain management or speeding up the healing process. This is because when I was undergoing some physical therapy for a neck issue I was having last summer, I noticed the physical therapists were using kinesiology tape on some of their patients. Then, I remembered, “Wait a second! Weren’t athletes using it during the last Olympic games?? Maybe I am missing something!”
Afer diving into the more recent data, it turns out, not much has changed: what I mean by that is kinesiology tape doesn’t seem to help with much.
Believe it or not, kinesiology tape, sometimes known as KinTape or kinesio tape, has been around since the 1970s. The thinking behind kinesiology tape is that it allows for better circulation in the areas it covers. Better circulation means better blood flow. More blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients being delivered to that area of the body. Theoretically, the delivery of more oxygen and nutrients to muscles will allow for improved muscular strength and endurance. Or, if we’re talking about healing post-injury, more blood and oxygen often means faster recovery.
But when we look at the research, it seems that kinesiology tape doesn’t seem to help in either situation. Meta-analyses have been performed to look at whether kinesiology tape is helpful for improving athletic performance or healing after an injury. A meta-analysis is where researchers look at a bunch of already published studies and then perform another separate analysis on all of these published data. Hence the term, “meta.” These meta-analyses are considered the “gold standard” when it comes to research studies — basically, they’re highly respected. And both found that kinesiology tape doesn’t seem to improve athletic performance or speed up recovery after an injury.
Is Kinesio Tape a Placebo?
If study participants did experience any improvements, it was likely caused by the placebo effect. So if it helped people run faster, or farther or lift heavier or heal more quickly, it was probably because simply believing in the effectiveness of kinesiology tape helped them. If you believe in it, it will work — but, not because of the kinesiology tape itself. It’s just because your brain believes it’s going to help. If your brain’s on board, then the body usually follows. If you believed your brand new, name-brand shoes help you run faster, they probably will. Not because the shoes are special, but because you believe they will help.
Let me try saying it another way. Some of you may have attended sports or fitness related events where there were kinesiology tape companies advertising their products. I am willing to bet that the colors of the kinesiology tape were not subtle. Instead, like I described earlier, they were very bright, maybe fluorescent colored and maybe even had some fancy designs on them. I’m sure none of them were flesh colored. I’m sure none of them looked like band-aids or gauze. I highly doubt the kinesiology tape companies were marketing hard-to-see tape.
Why is that?? Where would you normally find someone drawing attention to a limitation they have, particularly in sports?? Usually, when an athlete has an injury or a weakness or using something that may give them an edge, they try and hide it. Isn’t that what kinesiology tape is for? So, what’s going on here?? Well, that’s the thing — using kinesiology tape may simply be a way for someone to convince themselves that this product is going to help them perform better. By wearing it, you believe it’s going to help you. And sometimes, that belief is enough to run just a little faster, jump a little higher, or lift a little heavier.
So here’s the deal: even though there’s no magic in kinesiology tape that will help improve athletic performance, as I always say, if it’s not causing any harm and you like using it, then use it. I guess the potential harm in this case may be to the pocketbook. Or, if you have hairy arms like me, after ripping the tape off, you may end up with a random patch of smooth skin among a thicket of fur.
Again, if you’re into that and the benefits outweigh the risks, then it may be worth giving it a try!