Just as every Olympic Games creates stories of athleticism, dedication and sportsmanship, it also creates very real opportunities for trends to take hold, as wider audiences get to witness the story behind the story of top performing athletes.
One year, brightly colored nails sported by the U.S. track and field team became a fashion favorite. In another, the specialized swimsuit donned by the U.S. swim team that provided a special edge in the water, was in hot demand by high school swimmers everywhere.
In this summer’s case, it appears a colored therapy tape that’s been around for 30 years has Olympic athletes and viewers alike all abuzz.
At first glance, the brightly colored designs seen on athletes in every sport from synchronized diving to volleyball, may look like team spirit gone wrong, but in reality, Kinesio tape is a very real therapy that these athletes have come to rely on to help deliver their body’s best performance.
According to Dr. Bradley J. Smith, an Orthopedist specializing in sports medicine at Philadelphia’s Lankenau Medical Center, the brightly colored tape first started getting traction in the 2008 summer games in Beijing.
“Kinesio tape came onto the scene many years ago but it really only began building up speed in Beijing, when U.S. Olympic volleyball player, Kerry Walsh, sported it on her shoulder during game play,” Dr. Smith said. “Anytime you have a large viewing audience exposed to a new type of treatment or tool that can help deliver a top performance, you’re going to start hearing fans asking about it here at home.”
According to the makers of Kinesio, this elastic, waterproof textured tape, when applied by a properly trained therapist or trainer, using the Kinesio Taping Method, is “designed to facilitate the body’s natural healing process while allowing support and stability to muscles and joints.”
While medical professionals would like to see more research available that proves this claim, Dr. Smith says Kinesio tape can help the body achieve better positioning by supporting the area injured for a longer time, keeping say a kneecap or shoulder in place promoting better body alignment. The brain receives biofeedback of sorts, allowing it to then send messages to the related muscles to adapt and perform optimally.
“There’s also a secondary psychological component for the athlete in wearing the tape as well,” mentioned Brady O’Mara, MSPT of Seven Summits Fitness, who treats a number of sports related injuries in his practice. “If they know that they’re providing protection to a problem, like tendonitis, they gain confidence that they’ll be able to perform.”
But is this treatment method suitable for younger athletes, who may idolize sports stars who use the tape?
“I don’t believe it can do harm necessarily, because it’s not invasive,” O’Mara said. “I’m specially trained in the Kinesio Taping Method, so I would recommend using it in certain cases. However, I would prefer to see a patient who isn’t necessarily pressured to play through pain, like a high school soccer player, treat their injury with traditional therapies and allow time to let it heal properly.”
“We’re seeing the use of Kinesio tape really being most applied, when you have an athlete whose performance is their life,” confirmed Dr. Smith. Top athletes, like our Olympians, have to work through their injury many times, so they can continue to perform at top levels. “They don’t have time to wait for an injury to heal, especially when these folks have been training so hard for the big event. They look for less invasive therapies or treatments that will give them that edge, without breaking any rules for fair play.”
A Sticky Situation
Dr. Smith (left) notes that when fans see their favorite sports stars talking about a new therapy helping their game on say national television, undoubtedly weekend warriors who only play golf on random Saturdays, will start seeking out those treatments for his or herself, thus creating a trend of sorts.
While Kinesio tape itself may not be available for sale at the local mall, you can purchase it online via a variety of websites. But should fans be in a rush to buy this trending product and apply it themselves?
“You can’t really do damage if you want to tape up your own wrist to help you swing a golf club,” Dr. Smith explained. “But, if you’re looking to tape up your own shoulder because you have a bona fide problem, like bursitis, I wouldn’t recommend it. One really can’t tape up an area you can’t see, like behind your shoulder. If it’s not applied correctly, it won’t end up working properly and you’ll just be throwing away good money. If you’re in pain or an old injury is really getting in the way of your performance, I’d recommend seeking help from a medical professional to ensure you get the proper treatment.”