TOKYO – The Tokyo Olympics were held together for the most part by COVID-19 face masks and duct tape. The first is required, the second optional.
But it’s an option that many athletes have obviously chosen because duct tape is everywhere. On the wrists of gymnasts and climbers. On the thighs and shoulders of sprinters, throwers and rugby players. A Chinese diver’s body was so covered with brown tape that it looked like a mummy.
“Athletes wear it for a variety of reasons,” said Sue Falsone, an athletic coach for 25 years who has worked with the Dodgers and the men’s national soccer team. “While the science behind it doesn’t always support its use, the bottom line is that athletes feel better about wearing it. There are few disadvantages to wearing it, and if it helps them mentally or physically, I’m for it.
“Athletes don’t use things that don’t work. So it has to do something.”
There are different types of tapes, from the stiff white cotton sports tape that has always been around, to the colorful elastic therapeutic tape made from cotton, synthetics, and glue. Commonly known as kinesiology tape, it was developed in the 1970s by Kenzo Kase, a Japanese chiropractor. Both types serve several purposes.
“The white ribbon that climbers or divers wear on their wrists is typically worn for support,” said Falsone, who now directs Structure & Function Education, an Arizona-based company that provides training in exercise training, performance, and physical rehabilitation. “They feel like it gives them some stability on sensitive joints. While science says the tape will come off after a few minutes … it also gives the athlete a lot of mental support as they know they have extra support in that area. “
The stretchable, flexible therapy band also has advantages in terms of movement and posture. It also provides sensory input for an injured or sensitive area. And since it is elastic, it allows full freedom of movement in contrast to conventional sports bands.
“Some [athletes] will say if you put it on the muscle one way it can lighten a muscle so it works better, ”Falsone said. “If you put it on the opposite way, the muscle can relax. All of this has been debunked in the literature, but people have their theories and stick with them.
“What we do know is that this tape is very effective for pain control. Study after study shows that this tape works well for this.”
Former world record holder Dotsie Bausch was 40 when she won a silver medal in track cycling at the 2012 London Games. She said she used kinesiology tape not just for training and competition, but to relieve pain and tension after long flights and to help with sciatica.
“I was always in pain and there I always was [trained] hard, I made a living on ibuprofen, “said Bausch, founder and chief executive of the nonprofit Switch4Good. Using the tape reduced her reliance on pain medication.
Los Angeles Galaxy coach Cesar Roldan said elastic therapeutic tape has become ubiquitous in football. And it works best when athletes forget they’re wearing it.
“Your body never forgets the tape is there. So it continuously sends signals to this muscle to keep it on the fire,” he said. “Many times we tape someone who comes back from a hamstring strain to facilitate that muscle activation while they exercise or play.”
Therapeutic tape can also improve blood circulation and reduce swelling in the joints.
“There are little twists in the tape that help lift the skin,” said Falsone. “So you have skin, a layer of fat, and then muscles. There are blood vessels in the fat. When we lift the skin, blood circulation improves. That helps against swelling. “
In other cases, it’s little more than a placebo. But that too can improve performance, says Roldan.
“There’s not a lot of definitive research on these things,” he said. “In my experience, if it helps an athlete, even if it’s a bit like a placebo, I’ll do it.”
Kase, who developed the kinesiology tape, was looking for an alternative to the stiff sports tape, something that mimicked the elasticity of human skin. The first athletes to test Kase’s tape were Japanese sumo wrestlers, but he has also documented its effectiveness on dogs and horses, even taping branches, fruits, flamingos and fish.
Therapeutic tape didn’t really go mainstream until the 2008 Olympics, a popularity fueled in part by beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh, who won a gold medal with a complex spider web pattern provided by Kase on her surgically repaired right shoulder.
Fascinated by Walsh’s accomplishment, entrepreneurs bought the rights to take elastic therapeutics out of the clinic and sell them directly to consumers and formed KT Tape, a Utah-based company.
“Every time the Olympics take place, we see a significant increase in consumer usage. And visibility with athletes, ”said Greg Venner, President and CEO of KT Tape.
Working with several national umbrella organizations in winter and summer Olympic disciplines, the company has made bespoke deliveries to approximately 15 countries including the US, Canada, Germany and Japan by printing their three-letter IOC abbreviation on the ribbon.
“These are people, athletes, who believe in our product, have used it before, and it is an authentic application to a wide range of athletes in the Olympics,” said Venner. “It’s really no coincidence.”
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