Aside from weird suction marks, the bodies of Olympic athletes are undeniably pleasant to behold. Look, ESPN will tell you -- it's an aesthetic thing. But what's up with that tape you sometimes see stuck to seemingly random body parts? Trace Dominguez explains in today's Olympic-caliber DNews report.
The colorful tape that regularly pops up in broadcasts from Rio is generically referred to as elastic therapeutic tape. It's sold under various brand names -- Kinesio is the big one -- and was originally invented in the 1970s by chiropractor and acupuncturist Dr. Kenzo Kase. As those job titles suggest, the tape is largely considered to be an alternative-medicine therapy.
The idea is to place the tape in carefully selected locations so as to lift the skin on the microscopic level. This is supposed to alleviate pain, promote better circulation and benefit the lymphatic system.
"Supposed" is the key term here, since there is precious little in the way of on-the-record science to back up the claims. Critics of elastic tape therapy often point to study in Sports Medicine, published in 2012. In that report, researchers performed a meta-analysis of previous studies and concluded there was "little quality evidence to support the use of [elastic therapeutic tape]" relative to traditional taping methods used to support joints and muscles.
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Proponents of the therapy, meanwhile, point to the impressively-titled study "The Clinical Efficacy of Kinesio Tape for Shoulder Pain: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Clinical Trial." Unfortunately, a careful reading of that study reveals that the physiological mechanisms by which the tape is supposed to work remain "hypothetical."
If there's no hard science behind elastic therapeutic tape, why do athletes continue to use it? Well, as the famous saying goes, personal results may vary. Besides, if an athlete thinks the tape is helping, then in a very real way it is helping. This is known as the placebo effect, and it's no joke.
It also probably doesn't hurt that more than 50,000 rolls of the tape were donated to dozens of different countries at the 2008 Beijing games. That targeted marketing maneuver served to popularize use of the tape and associate the therapeutic practice with world-class athletes.
In other words, we must never doubt the power of positive thinking. And marketing.
-- Glenn McDonald
WGNtv: Olympic Athletes Put 'Cupping' And Alternative Medicine In The Spotlight
WebMD: Kinesio Tape For Athletes: A Big Help, Or Hype?
National Library Of Medicine: Kinesio Taping In Treatment And Prevention Of Sports Injuries: A Meta-Analysis Of The Evidence For Its Effectiveness