Olympic "K-Tape" unproven, scientists say

Alexis Madrigal on the weird tape that Olympic athletes are sticking on themselves:

It's called kinesio (or just 'k') tape. Athletes use the tape as a kind of elastic brace that they say helps relieve pain. The tape and technique were developed by Kenso Kase thirty years ago in Japan. Since then, many companies have developed similar adhesive tapes and they are in something of a marketing war. Unfortunately, the evidence that k tape does much of anything is scant.

Huh, I never would have thought that athletes, trained to succeed at all costs and given a perfunctory education, would be so easily sold on quackery and the promise of biological shortcuts.

That Weird Tape Olympians Have on Their Bodies: Does It Do Anything? [The Atlantic]


    1. That always cracks me up.

      7 billion people, and he gives a shit whether or not you win a race.  It’s especially moronic when the other people you’re competing against are doing the exact same thing – that’s just not fair on god.

      You can’t win smarts.

      1. It makes perfect sense, if you assume it’s YOUR god, not someone else’s. The others are unbelievers who don’t deserve anything.

        Monotheism: because tribalism looks so much better when marketed as pseudo-universalism.

        1. That only holds if they’re competitors from different cultures – I can at least appreciate that, as then it’s a battle of the gods (which if you keep in mind whilst watching, makes whatever it is infinitely more interesting)

        2.  I don’t think it’s always like this.  The faithful (of diverse religions) that I know have shared that praying is not as a request for riches or victory or glory – but are to maintain a close spiritual connection with God.  The times they explicit ask something from God, it’s for things like strength through adversity, comfort through pain, and peace through a turbulent time.  I think that for most mature faithful believers, the relation with God is not a ticket to avoid life’s disasters and defeats, but a means to sustain and persevere themselves through them.  I think religious people come in many levels of understanding – some pray for money and victory, but many don’t.  It’s therefore not that useful to generalize and tear down a belief system by simply pointing out the easy targets.

    2.  I try not to say this to “believers” but sometimes I can’t help myself –
      “if you pray, you are operating under the premise that humans do not have free will”.
      The end.

      1. That makes no sense whatsoever. By that illogic, I would be operating under the premise that humans don’t have free will if I asked my doctor to take out my appendix.

        1. wrong, on every single level possible.  please think about what you just said.
          a dr. is not a magic man in the sky you’re praying to, he’s a product of human science.
          if you think that a god can interceded on our earthly endeavors, how could humans possibly have free will?

  1. I would go a bit easier on them. As with many things in sports/athletics, some of it is tradition and or superstition.  At times it is used as a barrier between tape and skin.  At least, back when I got my ankles taped.  Long long ago, in the before time…

  2. I’m not sure how THEY’RE using k-tape, but I had my ankle taped up with it after spraining it really badly while running. It really helped; the tape limited my lateral ankle movement but not forward-backward movement, and it was waterproof so I didn’t have to have it re-applied after showering.

    Granted, this is completely anecdotal, and like I said, I don’t know how they’re using it — maybe they’re claiming it has magic powers or something; whatever. 

    1. Another thing to note is that the key highlighted phrase notes its effectiveness IN RELATION TO OTHER ELASTIC TAPES.

      In other words: “We’re saying it’s just not better than other stuff, not that it has no effect”.

      Headlines can be annoyingly distorting.

    1.  ^This.
      If it relieves pain, it relieves pain. Period.

      I tried those tapes as additional therapy when I injured my neck this year, and it helped. I still went to my chiropractor, I still did the exercises he told me to do daily, but in addition, it helped. So as long as you don’t think you can substitute these tapes for ergotherapy and the like, I see no reason to knock them.

        1.  Hm, thanks for that link. After reading that, as mentioned below, I’m not sure any more I used the same thing…that is a bit too much miracle working promised there…

      1. How do you know that it helped if you were completing actual therapy at the same time?  Did you cause the accident again and treat yourself the same, sans-tape afterward as a control method?

        I agree about placebo’s working, that’s kind of what a placebo is.  But I wonder how you were able to conclude that it was doing something when there were so many other factors involved, including treatment that works.

        1. You could have a bad day and then you realise halfway through that you forgot your tape, followed by a good day when you put your tape on in the morning. Or be in pain and then put tape on and feel a result. Then another time try some other pain treatment and compare the effect. Plenty of ways you can prove to yourself it made you feel better. Whether it cuts the overall recovery time, who knows, but at least you weren’t hurting the whole time.

        2. How? Some instant pain relief from the tape taking some weight from the muscle I had injured. Said pain relief occured ever time I put on the tape. Possibly I fooled myself into thinking it worked, or maybe it actually worked. Placebo, I wager.

          But I do admit I did not submit myself to a peer-reviewed double blind experiment at the time. :P

          Addendum: I may have shot too fast on the whole issue anyway, as after reading up on these things I am not at all sure any more if I used the same product, but definitely something comparable.

          1. I appreciate that you entered the discussion with the understanding that it was likely a placebo, so I give you huge credit for that. There’s certainly no shame in it; our minds our squishy and easy manipulatable, and it’s better to understand that than pretend it’s not true. I hope that doesn’t come across as patronising because I don’t mean it to be.
            I think the ‘instant’ nature of it would be the give away for me. The only instant medicinal thing that I’ve encountered is morphine. Sweet, sweet morphine.

      1. Your implication in the headline paragraph that athletes are insufficiently educated to understand the nature of placebo is insulting to athletes generally especially since Olympians are high-performing individuals who spend years pursuing excellence and are generally high-achieving individuals in more facets of their lives than just their chosen sport, you therefore demean yourself by your prejudice, and your assertion seems at odds with the rest of the population who believe all kinds of bollocks, regardless of education. Do I need to mention I’m a well educated atheist athlete to make this valid and bypass your prejudice?

    2.  That may be true, but I am not convinced it is, as all placebo effects are subjective so you can only self report that something feels better and the instinct to please people in authority will skew self reported results.

      But even if it is true, it is unethical to lie to patients about their treatment, especially when the treatments might take the place of actually proven treatments and/or cost more money.

      You have no right to take away someone’s agency over their bodies and health care by lying to them about a treatment in hopes they will self report things improved.

      1. That may be true, but I am not convinced it is, as all placebo effects are subjective so you can only self report that something feels better and the instinct to please people in authority will skew self reported results.

        That’s why researchers use blind studies. Which verify the placebo effect.

        1. The self reporting bias to please researchers is not addressed by double blinded studies. The patients know they are receiving care of some sort and know they are being asked to report on their symptoms after some sort of treatment.

          For a much more thorough examination of the existence of the placebo effect please see: http://www.skepdic.com/placebo.html

          However, the viability of the placebo effect is tangential to my main point anyway, dishonest medicine in hopes of the placebo effect helping is unethical and potentially damaging.

  3. I used to use it to tape some of my toes together so that I didn’t stub them and break them on the mat when I was doing Randori.  It made the two or sometimes three toes move as a unit.  Also, if I had any open sores on my hands or annoying stuff with my fingernails, I’d tape those up too, to keep them from touching stuff.  Also, if I was boxing or doing bag work, I’d tape up my knuckles so they didn’t get all abraded from the bag.

      1.  But, from what I understand, one of the benefits of K-Tape is the adhesive, which will stay stuck despite rapid motion through water at high speed (which is why so many divers and swimmers use it).

  4. Its easy to get wrapped up in all the latest and greatest fads to gain speed. As an avid triathlete and skeptic, its been hard for me to battle my brain and stop jumping on all the latest fads that triathletes love. Kinesio tape, compression garments, aerodynamic bikes/brakes/suits/wheels/helmets, ice baths, barefoot running, expensive swimming apparatus, etc.

    It gets to the point you do anything you can to gain an extra second and for many of these athletes the placebo effect can be a powerful force.

    1. I was not aware that compression was a placebo. It’s always helped me keep my calves stiffening up when running, myself.

  5. Very conspicuously and widely used in Australia’s local form of football (“Australian Rules”). Seems to be especially indicated for the shoulder area and biceps and triceps. Must be approved by the teams and team doctors and applied en masse by the physios.
    Mass hysteria?

  6. It’s lighter, easier to apply, and less restricting  than several other taping systems.  The conclusion in the article that it’s not shown clinical superiority to other systems of tape.  Yes, there are times when other tape is better.   There are not robust studies for it’s efficacy, there’s the one good one on shoulder pain: http://sportheart.ru/articles/the_clinical_efficacy_of_kinesio_tape.pdf .   There’s also studies saying that “conventional” athletic taping or bracing is of no benefit: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22513304

    This is pretty much how I describe it when I put it on patients:  When you have a broken bone, one of the most horrible sensation is the fragility that comes with instability, that feeling that something is truly out of place.  In milder sprains and strains, when even there’s very little true ligamentous instability, there’s a component of that instability.  So nothing is broken, on MRI, there may be no ligament or tendon that’s disrupted, but something in the injured region is telling the brain that something’s off.  Kinesiotape may help activate the part of the nervous system that tells people where their joints are in space, and provides a relief to that sense of instability.  It’s very light, easy to apply and remove.  Unlike more rigid taping (or casting), you’re not sacrificing use or range of motion.   Plus it comes in cool colors.  And bikers can get tape that matches their bikes. 

    More research would of course be good.

  7. not surprising at all – many athletes are highly superstitious… look at baseball players for instance with all their lucky charms.  Anything to boost confidence.  Getting in the right headspace is a HUGE factor in sporting success.   Even though it hasn’t been proven, it appears to have caught on in amateur sport since Beijing.   It’s kind of amusing to see all the different designs and arrangements and colours being employed.  

  8. It may function similarly to the superfluous “accessories” worn by NBA basketball players: headbands, armbands, wristbands, compression sleeves, compression leggings, extra padding, a variety of sock styles, flashy shoes, etc. They wear all of these items mostly to differentiate themselves visually, as without and of these markers, they look amazingly similar to those watching from the cheap seats and at home. Maybe they have some very limited physical impact, but the main goal is to look different.

    Then again, athletes can be pretty stupid. For example, see all of the neodynium magnet wristbands out there.

  9. Reminds me of the placebo-effect titanium necklaces that are the huge fad among major-league baseball players: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/22/sports/baseball/22shea.html

    1. Yep, came in to post the same.  Baseball is rife with all those stupid necklaces. Again, it appears like a Japanese company started that trend too. Trained all their lives since they were children to be the elite of their sport, paid millions, and they still believe that snake oil necklace will help them throw strikes or hit home runs…


      1.  I think it’s  because baseball is so difficult and weird. Success in hitting for an individual player can change pretty drastically over short periods, when the player feels like they’re doing the same thing they’ve been doing for years, that it  seems like the influence of invisible forces. Less extreme, but similar, for pitchers.

  10. F**kin’ K-Tape, how does it work? I’d chalk it up to the placebo effect.

    A doctor once taped my shoulder/back with that stuff to help with an injury. It did absolutely nothing for me. How could it? The injury was to muscles beneath the surface, and the tape was almost literally no better than putting a Band-Aid on a pulled muscle.

    1. I have a shoulder injury, and the PT gal has taped it three times. Did jack all. I looked for a peer reviewed study on the stuff, and could only find one that said essentially, that it didn’t do harm, but no good either. 

  11. I never would have thought that athletes, trained to succeed at all costs and given a perfunctory education, would be so easily sold on quackery
    You have missed the craze of the magnetic ‘balance’ bracelets of the last few years, now haven’t you ?

  12. I wonder, at least in the case of the divers that conspicuously use it, if it helps minimize the pain on entering the water by virtue of the fact that it forms a barrier between their skin and the water itself.

  13. K-Tape works , but not at directly reducing pain.  It works at reducing and restricting motion.  You notice that all the people that have K-Tape on have it crossing joints?   There’s a reason for that.  The K-Tape makes it so you have a sensory feedback when you are going into end-range motions, and end-range motions are where muscles get pulled, backs get arched, ankles get turned, etc.  

    K-Tape’s advantage over other tape is that it doesn’t slide with sweat or water.  That’s all.  It’s not some spectacular magic tape, just a biofeedback system for athletes that notify them from going into end range motions.  If the tape job is extensive and tight enough, the athlete can even be prevented from going into the end range motions.

      1. It’s overpriced, but other manufacturers have started making comparable tape, so the price has been drifting downward.  But you’re right, compared to other olympic level athletic wear, it’s cheap. I think the price on materials is about a dollar per application.  For the olympics, a lot was donated. 

  14. Did you really just suggest that Olympic-level athletes tend to have neither morals or scruples (“succeed at all costs”) and, as a class, stereotypically lack a meaningful education? And since when is a medical treatment whose efficacy is not yet proven through rigorous medical studies automatically “quackery”? I am rather amazed at the intolerance and ignorance you just exhibited (so much so that this is the first time I’ve bothered to post a comment on BoingBoing.)

  15. That may explain the orangey stripes I saw on the leg of somebody who came in the coffeeshop yesterday.  I couldn’t see them very well and wasn’t going to go walk across the room and gawk at her,  but there were two vertical stripes about the same color as the tape in the Atlantic picture.   It’s near a university, so she could be somebody doing athletics, as opposed to a weird fashion concept which was my first guess.

  16. That’s the kind of thing I came here to say, but it was said for me. For me, at least, it’s not parody, and not just for this. The headline also implies that the tape “has no effect”, yet the comparison was between the tape and other “elastic tapes”.

  17. I wouldn’t really call it quackery, there are a number of hypothetical benefits from K tape that aren’t particularly easy to quantify hence the lack of some types of evidence. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to back up the claims most of which ware listed above. 

  18. I used to do autocross, a ‘low-speed’ timed driving competition in street cars. An almost zen question is: do you gain more time from being more aerodynamic by driving with the windows up, or do you gain more due to a lower center of gravity if you roll down the windows?

    The real answer? Which ever one makes you feel more comfortable in the car is going to allow you to drive faster. The actual physical difference between the two options is likely to be smaller than the minimum time interval we used (1/1000th of a second) over a 60 second run at speeds between 10-45mph.

    The same could likely be true here. If it gives the athlete more confidence or makes them move more comfortably, then at the close level of competition you see at the Olympics it can make a difference.

    In judged sports, it is also possible that the tape could be used to draw the judges eye to or away from something. I haven’t seen anything that might be that kind of use, but I don’t know if I would know it if I saw it.

    1. I’d actually go for the lower center of gravity every time, given how little time is spent above 30 mph.

      (And, the autocrosses I’ve been to, windows down was mandatory for safety reasons anyway. And usually people put the top down on a convertible, too.)

  19. “Huh, I never would have thought that athletes, trained to succeed at all costs and given a perfunctory education, would be so easily sold on quackery and the promise of biological shortcuts.” –

    I’m surprised at your surprise, since the “psychological factor” (and concomitant superstition) is well documented in sport.

  20. OK, now someone needs to address those “titanium” and/or “magnetic” bracelets that golfers seem to think gives them superpowers. They come in either a metallic wrist-thing or a Live Strong plasticky thing.

    They seem to be selling pretty well over here.

  21. I never would have thought that athletes, trained to succeed at all costs and given a perfunctory education, would be so easily sold on quackery and the promise of biological shortcuts.

    Yes, I remember the football jocks in my high school and how brilliant they all were.  This is coming as quite a shock to me as well.

  22. Wow I always used these K-tape thing because I wasn’t able to find elastic tape . I grow up in the old continent where pharmacy don’t sell soda,gatorade,beer and chips but useful items , like strong stretchable sport tape. Because if you tape an injured ankle, You want to be able to move it enough so you can use it. So the stretchable quality of the tape let you do that ,meanwhile if you over stretch the ankle during the activity , the tape will hit it’s max stretch and prevent the weak ligaments to deteriorate even more. So each time I go back I buy bunch of these tapes. For twice as much tape I pay 1/4 of the price…K-tape range from 11 to 20$ ??? glue and elastic?…

  23. We used Kinesiotape a lot at Murdoch University in Australia. It differs from traditional strapping because it is not a rigid tape and therefore is less supportive, but this is not its aim. It promotes healing by lifting/separating the upper layer of fascia from lower layers, thus increasing fluid flow (in cases of inflammation due to soft tissue injury). It also promotes increased proprioception at joint capsules, because the stretch in the tape acts as a force-feedback.

  24. As a professional massage therapist, I was incredibly skeptical at what this “tape” could do for my recurring neck pain and subsequent headaches. I was introduced to it during an Airrosti session, which included deep mysofascial release work and then tape. I was absolutely amazed! It could have been the myofascial work in and of itself or a combination of the two, but I am a big believer in it now! I went headache-less for the first time in a year. I quit doing the treatments for now (lovely insurance has a “physical therapy” treatment cap) and the headaches are back. The said benefits of the kinesio tape are improved circulation and muscle mobilization.

    I will say that the actual brand “K Tape” sucks! The kinesio tape used in the Airrosti clinics was far superior as far as sticking power. I bought a roll of pre-cut strips of the premium K Tape and it starts peeling within minutes of application. 

  25. Never believe in Kinesio Tapes since it appeared back in 2008 until I tried it after injured myself, it does seem to work and the pain is a lot less now. If you use it together with the ice treatment, it is amazing. I believe Kinesio Tapes is the best brand.

  26. I heard if you wrap this tape around your speaker cables it widens the sound stage and improves definition.

  27. Huh, that’s funny, I would have suggested that athletes are probably the most superstitious people on the planet. Especially since the only measure of success of their mannerisms comes only from within their own being. 

  28. That stuff works! My wife had been suffering from vertigo and we had been to several doctors about it. She had a MRI done, and various other tests. None of the doctors could figure out what was wrong. One doctor thought maybe it was something with her inner ear and referred us to a physical therapist. The physical therapist quickly figured out that it was just a strained muscle in her neck. My wife had been able to reproduce the dizziness by turning her head left and right. The therapist held onto one of the muscles in her neck and had my wife turn her head left and right like before, but the dizziness was gone while the therapist was holding onto her neck. We were so happy to find the cause of her dizziness! The therapist attached some of this tape to her neck to relieve the strain on her neck muscles and my wife was cured! At least temporarily by this magic tape on her neck. The doctor prescribed some muscle relaxers and after a few days we took the tape off and she was fine. It turned out to be the bag my wife was using to carry her books for school. It went over one shoulder and caused her to strain the muscles in her neck. I bought her a proper backpack and sacrificed the one she had been using to the garbage gods.

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