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Kinesiology athletic tape

You may have first noticed kinesiology tape at the London 2012 Olympics when a number of top athletes competed with brightly coloured tape stuck to their bodies. Since then it's become a common sight on international sports stars – it's even been seen on race horses! But what is it and how does it work?

mario balotelli

Footballer Mario Balotelli with Kinesio tape at Euro 2012

What is kinesiology tape?

Kinesiology is the study of the mechanics and anatomy of human muscles.

Kinesiology tapes are thin, light-weight, mostly cotton, adhesive tapes used mainly to treat and prevent sports-related injuries. The tape comes on rolls or in pre-cut strands and is said to enhance performance and help with rehabilitation.

The tape is usually applied by qualified physiotherapists but it may be possible to apply it yourself. However, depending on where it is placed, it's highly likely you will need help.  

So how does kinesiology tape work?

Physical

The essential function of most tape is to provide support during movement. Kinesiology tape is also said to reduce pain, inflammation and tension, relax muscles, improve healing by allowing better circulation, and improve movement and positioning.

The UK website for Kinesio tape also says it can be used as an effective treatment for lymphoedema, a long-term condition that causes swelling, usually in the arms or legs.

Psychological

Unlike bandages and strapping, which in the past athletes may have tried to hide believing it showed weakness, some people have suggested there may be a helpful 'placebo' effect in using the brightly coloured, highly visible tape. It can explain away any possible failures and demonstrates an athlete's determination to push through adversity or injury.

It's also possible the tape becomes part of an athlete's kit, puts them in the right frame of mind and makes them feel ready for action.

What's the evidence for kinesiology tape?

There have been numerous case and group studies into kinesiology tape but most have been small. They haven't just looked at how the tape impacts athletes, but also its use for patients who have had a stroke, those with lymphoedema, and for children with cerebral palsy.

All the trials were different and so were the results. Many outlined a clinical benefit in specific circumstances. Some concluded there was no difference between the tape and manual therapy, whilst others found it provided no benefit for the group of people in the trial.

It is widely accepted that large and well-designed trials into the effectiveness of kinesiology tape are needed.

In the meantime, a 2012 article in Frontline, the magazine of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: "Scientifically proven or not, the therapy appears to have qualified support from many physios. Those approached by Frontline are in general agreement that the tape appears – anecdotally at least – to benefit patients." The Society now runs courses in kinesiology taping.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 03, 2016

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