This tape sticks: How Kinesio became cool

By CHRIS TALBOTT
Associated Press Writer

Phil Dalhausser has a tale of the tape that ends with him winning an Olympic gold medal.

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The beach volleyball player strained an abdominal muscle in the crucial run-up to the Beijing Games when he couldn’t afford a bad match, let alone to sit one out. He might have missed three weeks, but with the help of sports chiropractor Ernie Ferrel and Kinesio tex tape — a product few outside the world of physical therapy knew about — he helped the United States win in men’s beach volleyball.

“I love the stuff, to be honest with you,” Dalhausser said.

The Olympics were Kinesio tape’s coming out party. Now it is the latest trainer’s tool to become an American fitness fad, a Breathe Right strip for the new century.

The tape actually has been widely available for years. But hidden away under clothing for nearly three decades, it had never gotten quite the exposure it received when American beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh – also part of gold-winning duo — used it on her shoulder in China.

The life of Kinesio Taping director John Jarvis has been a hectic run of meetings, interviews and consultations ever since.

“With her wearing almost nothing, it definitely drew attention to the black (tape),” Jarvis said. “They were calling it everything from the spider web to the tarantula, you name it.”

The company’s Web site ( linked here)averaged 1,000 to 2,000 hits a day before the Olympics. It peaked at 400,000 hits, 4,000 e-mails and 1,200 phone calls a day after NBC commentators named the product on air.


“We received reports back from Google we were the second-most Googled term the first three days of the Olympics right behind Michael Phelps,” Jarvis said. “So it’s not bad company to be with, that’s for sure.”

As with many trendy fitness items, the tape soon will be making an appearance on a knee joint near you. But Ferrel cautions it’s not a cure-all. He’s been working with it for years and admits he’s still learning how it helps.

“I think I’m scratching the surface,” Ferrel said. “I think it’s a good product for certain applications. For all applications? No. Sometimes you have to support that joint, you have to compress it.”

What makes Kinesio tape different from your grandpa’s tighty-whitey athletic tape is its wide range of uses, while still allowing the wearer to move and flex. Traditional athletic tape supports a joint with a stiffness that’s more cast-like and has no real uses on injured muscles.

When Dalhausser called on his abdominals to help block three straight shots in the final set of the Olympic gold-medal match, the tape — used in conjunction with massage therapy — helped stop his muscle shy of the point of pain as he stretched out, then pulled forward with the muscle as he attacked.

No pain, all gain.

“The ab’s gotten better, but I still put it on,” Dalhausser said. “It’s more of a mental thing. It’s like when you roll your ankle, even though your ankle’s better, you still throw on a brace or whatever. It’s kind of the same kind of thing.”

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Among the first to use the tape post-Beijing was Patty Schnyder. The world’s No. 11 tennis player had a tight abductor muscle going into her U.S. Open quarterfinals match against Elena Dementieva.

“So for a change I decided to try out this tape,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “The normal wrap/support can be a little restrictive with the other muscles and this tape is able to focus on the specific muscle. It took away the pain instantly.”

Ferrel, a member of the AVP Tour’s medical board from Santa Barbara, treated
Dalhausser with the tape in two ways. When applied while the athlete is at rest, the tape’s wavy structure “pooches” or bunches the skin, pulling it away from the muscle
and creating space that allows for extra circulation.

During competition, the tape can be used to support or limit a specific muscle or muscle group. It stretches up to twice its length, so a trainer can apply different amounts of tension as needed.

Ferrel, a self-described early doubter of the tape’s therapeutic value, said it works in a variety ways.

“It gives you let’s say that confidence that you’ve got a little more going for you than without it,” Ferrel said. “To what degree? Is it 1 percent, 2-3-4-5-10? Well, I contend that if it’s 1 percent at the Olympic level, that’s a lot.”

The ultimate test of the tape for Seattle Mariners head trainer Rick Griffin is baseball’s 162-game schedule. He encountered the product more than a decade ago while speaking at a seminar in Japan and has used it since.

His biggest success came in 2001 when he used it daily on Bret Boone’s ailing knee. The All-Star second baseman hit .331 with 37 home runs and 141 RBIs. He finished third in the MVP voting and used the tape for the next several years.

“A lot of guys don’t like to put a big bulky wraps on,” Griffin said. “We’ve found that putting the Kinesio tape on hamstring injuries or groin injuries or calf strains takes enough of the pressure away the guys are able to play every day.”

Kinesio Taping sells about 200,000 rolls a year in the U.S. to medical professionals, who most commonly use it to treat lower back pain.

Entry into the retail market was in the works before the Olympics. With every major pharmacy and sporting goods chain now clamoring for tape, Jarvis is speeding up the release date. But the company must first figure out how to help consumers use it.

Proper application must be taught and is perfected with repetition. There are about 49,000 trained practitioners in the U.S. and 150,000 internationally, but Jarvis believes the company can overcome this limiting factor with creative solutions like precut pieces. The company sold about 2 million rolls a year on the retail market at the height of its popularity in Japan.

“It is a piece of tape,” Jarvis said. “And we’re all smarter than a piece of tape.”

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