Ask Dr Gary: Tape No proof you'll do better

Why do Olympic athletes wear tape on their backs and legs? When I was watching the Olympics, I noticed many divers had two stripes of vertical tape on either side of their spine and one vertical stripe on the backs of their legs. Does it work? - Rena

The placebo effect is one of the strongest treatments we have in medicine. You see it in action every time a mum kisses her toddler's banged elbow, and suddenly the hurt goes away better.

Elastic tape is thought to work in the same way. The effect seems real enough: athletes like it. There have been a handful of studies, but none have convincingly shown taped athletes actually perform better, or have less inflammation, and certainly no proof that it works as claimed: by increasing lymphatic drainage under the skin, and/or readjusting muscle tension. But elastic tape comes in red and yellow - who wouldn't feel faster in red? And the wearers do say they feel like something's happening. I think the marketing behind elastic tape is the most remarkable part of the Kinesio story. An acupuncturist and chiropractor in Japan named Kenzo Kase patented a variety of elastic tape in the 1980s. He trademarked the name and the methods of taping, and even created courses where, for a few hundred dollars, therapists could become Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioners. A brand was born.

His genius move came at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when he provided athletes there with 50,000 rolls of it, free. Initially criticised as an ugly and useless gimmick, opinions changed when a top volleyball player wore the tape on her injured shoulder - and won a gold medal. Sales jumped 300 per cent, and the company is now worth millions.

At this Olympics, many elite athletes wore the elastic tapes, now available in a rainbow of colours. Demand for it is now soaring from the masses, too. All without any credible scientific evidence that it works. But if you can afford it and it makes you feel better, what's the harm? Just use it with realistic expectations.

- Hamilton News

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