Most people will recognise sports taping after the most recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where many athletes performed with thick stripes of blue, pink and green down their arms and legs. To the average TV viewer, they might look more like a fashion statement than a sporting aid, but recently in clinic our patients have been paying them more attention.

Sports taping has a long and winding history, from simple zinc oxide tape used to hold rugby player’s broken fingers together, to the technical materials we see in modern tapes today. Brands like tiger tape, K tape and rock tape battle it out at the top end of the market to come up with more innovative products for sports people and practitioners to choose from.

But what’s the point of it all? Surely a little strip of sticky tape can’t be doing much good for a sprained ankle, a torn hamstring or an acute lower back pain? It may seem flimsy, but wait till you hear the science…

More and more research is being done currently into how the brain perceives injuries and trauma in the body. The first way that sports tape works is to take a part of the body that the brain considers to be vulnerable, and to make that area feel more supported. The tape is applied with a slight stretch to it, and then the elastic material in the tape recoils to give a supportive sensation. Whether or not any physical support is given to a muscle or joint is almost irrelative – as long as the brain feels it, free, relaxed movement of that joint or muscle is more likely to occur – and it’s that removal of fear that is vital for a full recovery.

Secondly the adhesive on the tape is applied in a wavy pattern, rather than a single flat film on the back side of the tape. This creates areas of differing pressure within the skin, fascia and connective tissue. If we apply the principals of physics – this should create negative pressure within the tissue – a potential void space, where fluid from swollen, damaged muscles and tendons can be more easily drained away.

These theories would back up what the tape companies say about recovery from injuries and better sporting performance. But the proof is undoubtedly in the pudding – check out these bruising pictures from one of our patients. You can see where the negative pressure has drained the blood out of her bruises and reduced her recovery time. That’s proof enough for me!

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