You might have noticed that when Steve Holcomb competed in the Bobsled Event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics he had a black tattoo-like strip of tape across the back of his leg. Holcomb strained a calf muscle during an early heat and wasn’t certain he’d be able to continue. He somehow got past the pain and won a bronze medal 24 hours later.
Holcomb’s training and determination kept him going with a little help from a black strip of tape on his calf that I instantly recognized as a kinesio taping. I first learned about this elastic therapeutic tape from my cousin who is a physiotherapist in Italy. After spending time with physicians in Milan to learn about foot and ankle care in the European healthcare system, I traveled to Portogruaro near Venice to visit my cousin Marika who practices physiotherapy; professionals who provide treatment to develop, maintain and restore physical movement and function. She introduced me to kinesio taping and described it as a technique to help protect and treat failure of function in muscles, tendons and joints.
As a Podiatric physician and surgeon I have used various taping and strapping techniques for a variety of biomechanical and functional problems so I was very interested in learning more. Coming out of research in kinesiology, the science behind muscular and skeletal movement, kinesio taping attributes its efficacy to the activation of the neurological and circulatory systems. Developed in 1979 as a muscle treatment by Japanese chiropractor Dr. Kenzo Kase, the taping method is said to gently lift the layers of skin and attached tissue covering a muscle to allow blood and other body fluids to move more freely in and around that muscle and effect healing.
Notice the italicized said. The ability of the tape and technique to provide support for muscles and joints, improve blood flow and reduce inflammation, all while enabling full range of motion sounds like a magic bullet for physicians and therapists who treat neuromuscular and orthopedic problems but the reviews on its efficacy are mixed. A 2012 meta analysis published in the journal Sports Medicine reviewed 10 studies on kinesio tape and found that current research on its benefits were inconclusive. Others have found it to be helpful. Many professional and Olympic athletes use and praise kinesio taping as evidenced by the pink, black and blue strips worn like medical tattoos at sporting events all over the world.
The tape itself is primarily made of cotton (you can wear it in the shower or pool) with a 100 percent acrylic adhesive that is hypoallergenic and latex free and a single application can last 3-4 days. I have used kinesio taping in selected cases and found it to be worth looking into meaning that as a physician specializing in the medical, surgical and orthopedic treatment of the foot and ankle and podiatric sports medicine, I’m always open to learning about any technique that sustains or improves the well-being and full functioning of the extremities.
A point to note. The success of this type of treatment depends on the tape and the technique meaning that the quality of the product used and the skill and knowledge of the physician and/or therapist applying it is of paramount importance. Do not waste your time and money trying to apply the tape on your own. Certified Kinesio Taping practitioners and physicians who make the proper diagnosis and apply the proper technique are necessary. As in any other medical problem an inaccurate diagnosis can lead to further problems and delayed healing.