ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The words “athletic tape” most frequently conjure images of locker rooms and football players.
Indeed, many athletes use tape on a regular basis. The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association reports that sales of athletic tape to pro teams, colleges and high schools were about $75 million last year.
Johnson & Johnson, in the athletic tape business since the 1920s, estimates that each club in the National Football League uses 80 miles of it a season.
Here are a few brands of the new generation of athletic tape:
Kinesio Tape (kinesiotaping.com): The website features tape, instruction manuals and pre-cut kits designed for one-time use for specific conditions. You can also search for a list of local practitioners certified in Kinesio taping techniques. Rolls of 2-inch tape start at about $15.
RockTape (rocktape.com): The website includes instructions you can print, a way to search for local retailers and tape starting at $20 a roll.
Self-Grip (domeind.com): The website includes a list of retailers; rolls of tape start at about $6.
A new generation of sports tape, however, is showing up on the bodies of athletes ranging from tennis and volleyball players to pro cyclists. And it promises to do a lot more than support joints.
Volleyball star Kerri Walsh became somewhat of a poster girl for Kinesio tape during the 2008 Olympics when she showed up with a taped shoulder. The makers of Kinesio tape, which has its U.S. office in Albuquerque, reportedly donated tape to 58 countries for use during the Games.
Traditional athletic tapes are generally applied over gauze to form a stiff wrap, with the goal of supporting, and usually immobilizing, a joint or muscle, according to Dr. David Peer, a certified sports chiropractic physician who practices in Albuquerque.
Newer, brand-name tapes such as Kinesio tape, RockTape and Self-Grip are applied in a specific pattern, and either stretched or not stretched, depending on the injury.
Manufacturers of Kinesio and RockTape claim that in addition to supporting injured muscles and joints, the taping method helps relieve pain by lifting the skin and allowing blood to flow more freely to the injured area. The makers of RockTape also contend that, when applied following PowerTaping principles – designed for performance as opposed to theraputic applications – the product can reduce fatigue, improve endurance and enhance muscle activation.
“Tape and taping methods have evolved,” Peer says. “For sports that are repetitive in nature, taping guides the movement, and that can help in recovery.”
What research says
Daniel Trujillo, 29, of Albuquerque recently found relief from a bout with iliotibial band syndrome. Trujillo says he had tried many of the standard remedies for the nagging pain and decided to give taping a try.
“I called a certified Kinesio-taping pro here in town. It took 10 minutes out of my day and within a couple of hours, I got relief,” he says.
While large-scale research on the effectiveness of taping is limited, a few studies indicate that it may be effective.
The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy published a study in 2008 comparing legitimate Kinesio taping with sham Kinesio taping on patients with rotator cuff tendonitis and impingement.
The results showed that the patients who received the real therapeutic taping method reported an improvement in pain levels during active range of motion exercise immediately after the tape was applied. However, they did not find any differences in the reported pain levels of the two groups at any other time in the study.
Another study from San Jose State University reported that in 30 healthy individuals, the use of the tape along the lower trunk area appeared to increase the range of motion in trunk flexion.
Kate Davis, an Albuquerque physical therapist certified in the Kinesio taping method, says people she has used the method on have had positive results. “They thought I was magical.” She has been using the method for about three years and believes it can help in healing minor injuries.
Peer, too, says he has had positive results.
“People really like to be taped,” he says.
He doesn’t use one proprietary method of taping, but a variety of techniques learned over his years in practice. “It’s not hard to do and it’s great to be able to send people out of the office with something that can help them.”
Opinions vary on whether it makes a difference if the tape is applied by someone who has received training.
Davis says she believes the methods do make a difference and that people get better results when a certified professional does the taping. Peer, however, says he can generally teach athletes or someone close to the athlete, once he figures out what works.
“The worst thing for an athlete is to be out of competition, and taping is one thing we can use to keep people in the game.”