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Cheap Seats: Kinesiology Tape: Miracle Or Myth?

By Dave Lomonico

From Olympic volleyball champion Kerri Walsh to tennis standouts Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams to seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong to weekend warriors, athletes around the globe are literally latching on to KT Tape.

K-what?

Kinesiology tape, formally known as elastic therapeutic tape, is a cotton-based adhesive strip. It can be applied to any part of the body in order to support painful hamstring strains, prevent Achilles injuries or even help people recover from plantar fasciitis and shin splints. This isn't that white masking-tape-like stuff wrapped around hockey sticks and football players' fingers, nor is it that brown, stretchy brace trainers carry in their medical bags. KT Tape is more like an elongated, elastic Band-Aid -- with healing powers.

"Basically, KT Tape is a replacement for regular athletic tape, which can be rigid and restrict motion," said Russell Manalastas of Maryland SportsCare & Rehab. "But KT Tape actually promotes motion, even if you have a significant ankle or shoulder injury. The tape alleviates pressure by creating a facilitatory effect -- lifting skin off the muscle so it's under less strain -- around the applied area."

Kimberly Rowe of Owings Mills, a patient of Manalastas' who runs half-marathons, started using KT Tape more than a year ago to relieve knee and foot pain. A sprinter during high school and college, Rowe wasn't accustomed to the toll that long-distance races can take on runners' bodies.

"But as soon as [the trainers] wrapped me up in KT Tape, I had no pain or discomfort running at all," Rowe said. "And on top of that, the tape actually helped my foot heal faster when I continued to wear it after the race. I call it my magic tape."

Although Rowe's magic tape has just started to gain traction in the United States, a Japanese doctor named Kenso Kase invented it during the late 1970s, according to numerous kinesiology Web sites. Japanese athletes began applying the tape around 1980, and in 1988, when the country's volleyball team sported it during the Olympics, its appeal broadened. American athletes started using the tape during the mid-1990s, and more Americans took notice after the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

"I'm actually a volleyball player, so when I saw Kerri Walsh wearing KT Tape in the Olympics, that definitely piqued my interest," said Shotsie Wilson of Mount Airy, who began using KT Tape on her ankle last year. "And at the London Olympics this year, oh man, the stuff was all over the place. I've definitely seen more and more [everyday] athletes using it since then. It has taken off."

Still, it's not as if every Olympic hurdler or middle-aged marathoner is using KT Tape. Although many therapists and athletes have spoken highly of the product, not everyone agrees on its benefits. A 2012 article in Sports Med and a 2009 study in The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy reported no conclusive evidence supporting the tape's positive effects.

"We have to get more feedback to know for sure what KT Tape's effects are," Manalastas said. "But whether or not the tape actually works physically, our main focus is to get a person to function better … and help them overcome a deficit. From what we've seen, the KT Tape seems to do just that."

Manalastas did admit there could be a placebo effect with KT Tape -- if the athlete thinks the tape is working, then the injury starts to feel better.

Whatever the case, don't expect his patients to give it up. Rowe is currently preparing for a half-marathon in Virginia.

"I can tell you right now," she said, "I'll be taping up."

More Cheap Seats:
It May Be A New Gino's, But It's Same Old Place
Sports Boosters Aiming To Sign Life Members
Kinesiology Tape: Miracle Or Myth?
Sami Zerwitz Competes Despite Family Tragedy
Save-A-Limb Festival Set For Oregon Ridge

Issue 177: September 2012