You’ve seen the images: Strips of tape in all colors running up, down and around Olympians’ bodies in sometimes bizarre designs. Some look like street maps. Some are more like spider webs.
It’s called Kinesiology tape (Kinesio tape, or KT tape, for short), and it’s basically a super-strong Band-Aid of sorts, made of cotton and yarn so it stretches to provide maximum support and minimum restriction. While it’s allowed at the Olympics and other athletic competition, there’s no guarantee it’s helping any of the athletes who choose to use it any more than titanium necklaces worn by Major League Baseball players, or the magnetic bracelets sold to golfers.
Invented in Japan more than 30 years ago, its use soared after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing when rolls of it were donated to 58 countries. Several companies make the tape, including RockTape, PerformTex, SpiderTech and KT Tape.
Some athletes swear by it, claiming the tape does the same work as braces placed on sore or injured parts of the body. In London, it might appear to be on every athlete. Beach volleyball players such as Kerri Walsh Jennings, for example, seem to be wearing more tape than uniform. Katrin Holtwick of Germany was seen with multiple strips running up and down her abdomen.
Makers of the particular tape being used in London (KT Tape ) claim it can do anything from alleviating “runner’s knee” and curing shin splints to reducing inflammation and increasing circulation which “prevents muscle cramping and lactic acid buildup.”
“By applying KT Tape over affected tissue,” its inventors claim, “athletes experience an external support which helps to prevent further injury and allows the body’s damaged tissue to rest and heal naturally despite continued activity.”
Before you run out and get some for your weekend warrior injuries, though, be warned: Claims that the tape is nothing more than “snake oil” are nearly as common as the compliments. It’s similar to the discussion over Phiten necklaces and copper bracelets golfers wear. Still, unlike the alleged powers of materials woven into necklaces or baked into bracelets, you can actually feel something when wearing the tape. Even it’s just a placebo effect, there appears to be no harm being done.
“If athletes feel this may help benefit them from a performance standpoint, I have no problems with them trying it,” Dr. Aaron Mares told NBC News.
Just don’t expect it to actually heal an injury, others warned.
“If there is a structural damage like a torn ACL or meniscus, it’s not going to be effective; after all, it’s tape,” one orthopedic surgeon told NBC. His advice? Stick with physical therapy, ice and traditional pain-relief methods.