#EK – Wondered what those blue stripes on Balotellis back were?
By Michelle Roberts Health editor, BBC News online
Why are athletes wearing coloured tape?
In the Euro 2012 Championship, Italian striker Mario Balotelli was sporting three tramlines of blue sticky tape on his back.
And at Wimbledon, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic has had his elbow patched up with the same stuff.
So what’s behind this latest sporting fad?
The Japanese makers of Kinesio tape say it gives players an edge by mending injuries.
Although it might seem like a new idea, the tape has been around since the 1970s.
Dr Kenzo Kase says he came up with the design because he found standard taping techniques, like conventional strapping, too restrictive for his patients.
Although standard strapping provides muscle and joint support, it limits movement and, according to Dr Kase, gets in the way of the healing process by restricting the flow of inflammatory fluids below the skin.
Kinesio tape is different, he says, because it lifts the skin to assist this lymphatic flow, which, in turn, reduces pain and swelling.
However, Dr Kase admits there have been too few studies to prove these scientific claims.
Dr Kase says people have been using his tape with success for more than 30 years. But he recognises that only solid scientific evidence can silence critics.
“We have many people researching but the society of Kinesio taping therapy itself – the International Kinesio Taping Association – is only five years old. We need more evidence. We do not have research reports. Part of the reason people are using Kinesio tape is to find the science.”
Another element to consider is the power of persuasion or “placebo effect” – if you believe something will work then you will see results.
John Brewer, a sports professor at the University of Bedfordshire, said: “Personally, I think it is more of a placebo effect. There is no firm scientific data to show that it has an impact on performance or prevents injuries.
“My concern is that there is little that you can put on the skin that will have a real benefit for the muscles that lie deep beneath.
“The power and stress going through the joints is immense.
“But, saying that, I can’t see it would cause any real problem, other than making you lose a few hairs.”
In theory, anything that can lessen the oscillations or vibrations that go through the muscle when you are doing intense sport will be beneficial, he said.
Phil Newton, a physiotherapist at Lilleshall, one of the UK’s National Sports Centres, said: “It’s a multimillion-pound business, yet there’s no evidence for it. There’s a whole host of companies making this tape now.
“A lot of medical practitioners do use it.
“It is different to the various types of tape that physios have been using for donkey’s years to strap sprained ankles and so on.
“This is a relatively new type of tape that is thin and light weight. The idea behind it is fascial unloading – reducing pressure in the tissue below the skin.”
Dr Newton remains dubious. “Looking at the tensile strength of the tape I don’t see how it could do it unless it is down to stimulating the senses. The power of placebo is very strong and shouldn’t be underestimated.”
He predicts the Olympics will be awash with the stuff. “It’ll be a show of multicoloured tape.
“We’ll probably see athletes in the Olympics sporting a few union jacks made out of it,” he said.
Dr Kase certainly hopes so.
He said: “Olympians are very top athletes. Top athletes are very different from regular athletes. They are hypersensitive and they worry. My tape will give lots of comfort to them. This is not drugs.”