Beijing Olympics

kerri walsh tape, kerri walsh shoulder, kerri walsh kinesio tape
Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Misty May-Treanor, right, celebrates with teammate Kerri Walsh.

What’s that Tape on Kerri Walsh’s Shoulder?

August 20, 2008 09:23 AM
by Denis Cummings
The black tape worn by Walsh and other Olympians has left viewers baffled and led to an increase in sales for the company that produces it, but little is known about its effectiveness.

‘Walsh’s mysterious new accessory’

American beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh has been wearing black tape on her shoulder during her team’s run to the finals. Many viewers were confused as to what it was, with some guessing that it was a tattoo.

The tape is actually a therapeutic tape, worn because Walsh had rotator cuff surgery last fall. Produced by an Albuquerque-based company called Kinesio, the tape is designed to treat muscular disorders by improving circulation to joints.

Though other athletes have worn the tape, it is often covered by the athlete’s uniform. Walsh’s bikini doesn’t cover the tape, exposing it to millions of Olympics viewers. Kinesio reported that it received 1,600 orders a day after one of Walsh’s matches, a sharp increase from the usual 250 a month it receives.

The publicity is no accident. Kinesio had the marketing foresight to donate 50,000 rolls of the tape to the Olympic Games for use by athletes from around the world. In doing so, it gained the benefit of high profile athletic endorsement at a fraction of the usual cost.

Background: Kinesio tape

Kinesio tape was developed 25 years ago by Japanese chiropractor Dr. Kenzo Kase. According to Kinesio, the highly-elastic tape—which can stretch 30–40 percent from its resting length—pulls the skin away from the muscle fascia and allows the muscle to breathe. It improves lymphatic flow, reducing pain, swelling and muscle fatigue. Additionally, the tape does not restrict motion and can be worn from several days straight.

It was first used in the Olympics in 1988 by Japanese athletes, and the exposure allowed Kinesio tape to expand into Europe and the United States. Many prominent athletes—such as Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and David Beckham—have used the tape and found it to be effective.

Opinion & Analysis: Does Kinesio tape work?

There have been few scientific studies to support athletes’ belief that Kinesio tape works. Kinesio has gathered many of these studies, the majority of which were performed with only a few test subjects and showed that Kinesio tape provides a small benefit.

The largest study was published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy in July. Testing the effect of Kinesio tape on rotator cuff tendonitis, it found that Kinesio tape has a small short-term effect, but no long-term effects. “When applied to a young, active patient population with a clinical diagnosis of rotator cuff tendonitis/impingement, KT may assist clinicians to obtain immediate improvement in pain-free shoulder abduction ROM,” it says. “However, over time, KT appears to be no more efficacious than sham taping at decreasing shoulder pain intensity or disability.”

Dr. Jay H. Williams hypothesizes on his blog that Kinesio tape is providing only a “placebo effect” to athletes. “It is possible that over time, scientific studies might show the sort of effectiveness that is described by some athlete and therapists,” he writes. “But, until then, one must question whether the Kinesio taping used by Olympic athletes actually aids their performance.”

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