Here's Why Olympic Athletes Are Wearing That Tape on Their Bodies

August 20th 2016

Thor Benson

The 2016 Rio Olympics are wrapping up Sunday. Speaking of wrapping up, why are so many Olympic athletes wearing that strange colored tape on their bodies? Is this akin to the cupping fad we saw earlier in the games?

The answer is: Sort of. As with the cupping, the tape is another device designed to optimize the athletes' physical condition. In this case, athletes believe the tape helps increase circulation while they compete.

kinesio tape

The tape is called kinesio tape, and it's been around for many years. One brand, KT Tape, claims it helps support the body while it's recovering from elevated activity. According to KT Tapes' website:

"KT TAPE is applied along muscles, ligaments, and tendons (soft tissue) to provide a lightweight, external support that helps you remain active while recovering from injuries. KT Tape creates neuromuscular feedback (called proprioception) that inhibits (relaxes) or facilitates stronger firing of muscles and tendons. This feedback creates support elements without the bulk and restriction commonly associated with wraps and heavy bracing. KT Tape gives you confidence to perform your best."

The tape was developed by Japanese chiropractor and acupuncturist Kenzo Kase in 1979, Adam Halpern, education director for tape maker Kinesio, told CNN in 2012. He believed the way the tape pulls on skin and muscles would increase circulation.

Does it work? Critics of cupping were quick to point out that there's little scientific evidence to back up its claims that it stimulates muscles and blood flow while relieving pain.

Similarly, there isn't much scientific evidence supporting the use of kinesio tape, according to several sources. One study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015, asserted that using the tape is better than "minimal intervention for pain relief." Others attribute any benefits to the placebo effect.

But that's not stopping athletes from using it. "A lot of athletes like it because there are no chemicals, and it is a natural healing mechanism that tells different receptors to deactivate a little bit if the muscle gets too tight," Halpern said.

Whether it works or not, kinesio tape has provided one more bit of color in an already colorful Olympic Games.