Kinesio tape's popularity among athletes isn't based on science, but Japanese inventor believes

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

LONDON – The lineage of the mysterious tape strips used by Olympic athletes to guard against injury goes back to an old Japanese technique devised to assist sumo wrestlers.

Kinesio tape – an elasticated, adhesive cotton strip – was first seen at the Games four years ago when it was stretched across beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh’s back in Beijing.

This time around it has been seen on the limbs of countless leading athletes, with divers, gymnasts and tennis players – including Novak Djokovic – all believing in its powers of injury prevention and rehabilitation.

The tape is designed to lift the skin and assist with drainage of the lymph nodes, thereby reducing pain and swelling in joints and muscles. Outside the Olympics, soccer star David Beckham and cyclist Lance Armstrong have used it in competition.

However, Dr. Kenzo Kase, the Japanese inventor who developed the tape more than 30 years ago, has admitted that although he believes in its healing powers, no scientific evidence supports his claims.

"Your pain sensors are located between the epidermis and the dermis, the first and second layers of your skin," Kase told the Guardian. "I thought that if I applied tape to the pain it would lift the epidermis slightly up and make a space between the two layers. This would in turn allow blood to flow more easily to the injured area. But you can use the tape in lots of ways, depending on the width and the amount of stretch.

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"We started in Japan with sumo wrestlers. Their activity is so strong and heavy that they get injured in so many areas – knee, hamstring, ankle, shoulder, spine. I also think that in Japan we are very open to alternative treatments, whether it's shiatsu massage, acupuncture or herbal medicines; many people combine natural, traditional remedies with modern medicine. Europeans and Americans have perhaps taken longer to come around to that idea."

Sports stars are now adopting the fad in numbers and Kinesio tape is available for purchase in shops at the Olympic Village.

Limited scientific tests have so far indicated the tape provides little in the way of long-term benefits. However, studies also showed that the tape eased the discomfort of most users.

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