The brightly colored tape is being seen on endurance athletes everywhere, but what does it do?
That colorful tape you see on beach volleyball players and increasingly on endurance athletes is more than just a fun shade of athletic tape. “It’s a lot different than regular athletic tape,” said Dr. Victoria VanNederynen, a Boston-based chiropractor certified in the Kinesio Taping Method.
The brightly-colored kinesiology tape is made up of cotton fibers with polymer elastic strands woven throughout. Whereas traditional athletic tape restricts blood flow and movement, kinesiology tape is pliable and allows for a full range of motion. “It feels like it’s not even there,” said VanNederynen.
First developed in the 1970s by Japanese chiropractor Kenzo Kase, kinesiology tape came to prominence after the 2008 Olympics, and several companies have developed products from Kase’s Kinesio Tex Tape since.
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Although it can be applied in a variety of patterns, the tape predominantly works in a few key ways. Kinesiology tape offers structural or muscle support; it can correct postural problems and increase blood flow and lymphatic drainage.
When the tape is applied correctly, it achieves the last of these effects by lifting the skin to create a small space between the muscle and dermis layers. That space takes the pressure off swelling or injured muscles, allows smooth muscle movement and makes space for drainage and blood flow.
“We’re talking a very, very small space of separation, but it’s enough,” said Dr. Justin Pierce, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based chiropractor who uses the tape on his patients.
Both Pierce and VanNederynen said they use the tape themselves for long bike rides, triathlons or marathons. But they both also acknowledged that some of the benefit may be mental, particularly for people with old injuries.
“It works. Do we know how it works? Not for sure,” said Pierce. “I think it does do something.”
There are several brands of kinesiology tapes on the market available at specialty running, triathlon and cycling shops. Tapes are typically available in two-inch or four-inch widths and some brands, including Rock Tape, Spidertech and Kinesio, also have handy precut tape specifically made for certain body parts such as knees, feet, shoulders and backs. And unlike traditional sports tape, kinesiology tape comes in fun bright colors and patterns. Don’t fret if you’re nervous about applying the tape yourself; most manufacturers’ websites offer instructional videos or will help you find a practitioner in your area.