Kinesiology tape (a.k.a. "kinesio tape") has made a big splash at the Olympics. Suddenly this formerly small-scale bit of pseudoscience has become an item of everyday conversation. Everyone is wondering, what is the deal with that colorful tape all over the Olympic athletes?
Pain is a funny thing; it is incredibly susceptible to the placebo effect.
Kinesio tape was developed by a Japanese chiropractor and acupuncturist whose website assures visitors that it is "Real Science. Real Research. Real Results." That's not a good sign right there. No one has to tell you that cooking chicken to a minimum 165 degree internal temperature is "real science," or that recommendations that you wash your hands before you eat is the result of "real research."
Another red flag is that one of the main (alleged) effects of Kinesio tape is in pain relief. Pain is a funny thing; it is incredibly susceptible to the placebo effect.
Other red flags are that the other effects of Kinesio tape are entirely unverifiable. These (alleged) benefits include improved lymphatic drainage, reduced inflammation, and improved synchronization of muscles. These are all effects that are entirely subjective, as well as being entirely unmeasurable.
You also have to take into account the fact that top-tier athletes are often incredibly superstitious. Nothing wrong with that; just saying. The number of lucky charms and lucky rituals among elite athletes is genuinely surprising to the rest of us rabble. But whatever works, right?
One true effect of Kinesio tape - and possibly the only way in which it really does work - is that its presence reminds the athlete of its purpose. Let's say you are making an effort to use your left hand as often as your right hand. If you put a strip of tape on your left hand, you are constantly noticing that tape as your body moves and stretches it against your skin. And each time you notice it, it's a reminder to you to use that hand.
As with so many pseudoscientific medical so-called miracles, there is always a chorus of "So what? It's not hurting anyone. Let them wear crazy tape if they want." Which is true, but there IS a harm: a harm to the athlete's bank account, and to the bank account of everyone who saw the Kinesio tape during the Olympics and who is now clamoring to get some for themselves.
Kinesio tape isn't cheap, and it (supposedly) has to be applied by a professional. Most Olympic athletes aren't exactly raking in the big bucks, and the same is true of the everyday folks who will start buying this stuff in order to imitate their idols. There IS harm being done.