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Kinesio Tape: The Evidence

by Brian Dunning

August 13, 2012

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Donate This evening I was browsing through some of the many articles online about Kinesio Tape, the alternative medicine sports product that has seen so much exposure in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games due, according to the articles, to the company having given a lot of it to each team. However that doesn't explain why they'd actually use it -- no athlete wants to wrap up in elastic tape that doesn't do anything without good reason.

Those good reasons include pain management, injury treatment, injury prevention, enhanced performance, increased range of motion, and just about anything else an athlete might want. It sounds like a miracle -- one simple product that does everything you can imagine. In short, a textbook snake oil product.

Kinesio Tape comes, not surprisingly, from the goofy worlds of chiropractic and acupuncture, where magical energy fields are said to be responsible for so many human body functions. Those are industries that usually claim immunity from scientific scrutiny, as they are based on non-scientific hypotheticals. But this 2008 blog from the NY Times -- posted during the Beijing Olympics -- linked to an actual published study. I had to read it.

The study took 30 healthy subjects and found that after applying Kinesio Tape to their abdomens, they had an increased range of motion. Sounds impressive, until you realize that this simple test is part of "applied kinesiology", the century-old stage magician's trick used to fool people into thinking they have more or less strength or flexibility. You've seen it more recently in the Power Balance, etc., sales demonstrations. This particular test is based on the simple fact that when you stretch once, you can almost always stretch further the second time. From reading the study abstract, it sounds like this is exactly what they did. They had the subjects twist as far as possible, then they applied the flexible elastic tape, then had the subjects try to twist even farther. Not surprisingly, they did. Anyone familiar with the applied kinesiology trick knows that holding a rubber band, making a face, wearing a hat, or just about anything else will have the exact same effect as did the Kinesio Tape. It's a simple fact of human flexibility that you can stretch further the second time.

Perhaps the Kinesio Tape company provided some such "data" to the Olympic athletes along with the rolls of tape. I don't know, but having a number of friends in the volleyball teams, I'll ask around. (Those same friends passed along the rumor that beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh was paid $100,000 to wear the Kinesio Tape so visibly in 2008, but I can't vouch for that.) I do know that I have not yet seen a single athlete, pro beach volleyball players included, wear Kinesio Tape outside of the Olympics (or other high-profile professional events), and that includes Kerri Walsh. It would not surprise me to learn that sponsorship dollars are entirely responsible for the popularity of Kinesio Tape during televised events, but if misleading studies like the one cited above are being passed around, who knows what's actually in the athletes' heads.

For further info on Kinesio Tape, please read Dr. Steven Novella's excellent (and brief) takedown.

by Brian Dunning

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