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Tale of the Tape

Reprinted from SNS July 2017

Athletic tape comes in many materials and colors and serves many purposes for professional and amateur athletes, but knowing how to use it is critical

Anyone who’s watched the last couple Olympic or Paralympic Games has probably seen some of the athletes using colorful tape stuck in different shapes all over their bodies. 

Taping is used frequently by athletic trainers, physical and occupational therapists and others in the medical field to help athletes with injuries. It’s only recently attracted the public’s attention, as more high-profile athletes have been spotted sporting the colorful strips on their bodies. But it isn’t just elite athletes who can reap the benefits of athletic tape.

There are many varieties of athletic tape and different taping techniques that all serve different functions, and some researchers debate the benefits of taping altogether. But taping can be a crucial piece of equipment for many athletes at all skill levels.

Ray Castle, PhD, LAT, ATC, is a professor of professional practice and the athletic training program director in the Louisiana State University School of Kinesiology, which is a member of the American Kinesiology Association. As a medical coordinator for the Cajun Classic Wheelchair Tennis Association Tournament in Baton Rouge, La., since 2013, and an athletic trainer for more than 25 years, Castle has seen athletic tape used in a variety of ways and says he couldn’t do his job without it. 

“It’s a difference in us being able to return an athlete [to activity], based on what the condition is. It’s an essential part,” Castle says. “As a health care provider, an athletic trainer uses athletic tape not just in athletics … but we’re using this to make sure the person stays in the activity, and it’s injury prevention. If they are injured, it helps us to facilitate them going back to activity sooner.”

Types Of Tape

Athletic tape brands are categorized by their material, tensile strength and elasticity. 

For example, non-elastic tape is a basic white tape typically made from non-stretchy cotton or polyester. It has a zinc oxide adhesive backing and is designed to be applied directly to the skin. Moleskin is a type of rigid, non-elastic tape, which has a felt backing, strong adhesive strapping and can be custom cut. Fiberglass cast tape is another type of semi-rigid tape used to immobilize an area.

Elastic tape has an adhesive backing or it’s cohesive, meaning it can adhere to itself. Elastic tape, also called stretch tape, refers to specific types that are used in protecting a body region from re-injury, providing support and reducing range of motion during the treatment or rehabilitation of a current injury, or securing protective padding or wound dressings to a body area.

Kinesiology tape, also known as K-tape, is an elastic cotton tape designed to mimic human skin. It’s heat activated and intended to stay in place through showers and sweat. It has a medical-grade acrylic backing and can stretch up to 140% of its original length, minimizing restriction to movement. Kinesiology tape is sold under different brand names, but the original elastic adhesive Kinesio tape, also called Kinesio Tex Tape, was developed by Kenzo Kase, a Japanese chiropractor and acupuncturist, in 1979. The strips can be applied in many different shapes, depending on the injury and body part, and they come in many colors, depending on the athlete’s preference.

Taping can be a cost-effective option when compared to braces, slings or splints, but only if the tape is needed for a short period of time.

“It can work more effectively because one, it is functional, number two it’s lightweight, number three you can get a true fit customized to the patient, versus a brace over the counter, there could be some form-fitting to it, but it doesn’t have the adhesiveness,” Castle says. “But there are some limitations to it [taping] as well. Braces are not going to fail. So the problem with taping is … with sweating, it stretches, it loses the supportive nature of it, so that’s why we use different types of taping to support the person.”

In addition, Castle says, medical professionals and athletes need to be aware there’s a small risk of contact dermatitis or allergic reaction, especially if materials have latex in them.


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