This often brings with it questions on what athletes are doing to maintain a competitive edge and can these procedures or techniques be used by amateur athletes looking to improve their game.
The tape that you see athletes wearing is often referred to as sports tape or kinesiology tape. This tape is made up of cotton fibers with polymer elastic strands woven throughout. It is pliable and allows for a full range of motion. Although there aren’t any huge medical studies outlining how taping actually works, many clinicians have found numerous benefits of taping, amongst their patients. Some of the benefits include:
Providing structural or muscle support, which helps to reduce muscle fatigue.
Correcting postural problems to allow for better form.
Increasing blood flow and lymphatic drainage which helps to eliminate swelling and promote healing.
When the tape is applied correctly, it achieves the last of these effects by lifting the skin to create a small space between the muscle and dermis layers. That space takes the pressure off swelling or injured muscles, allows smooth muscle movement and makes space for drainage and blood flow.
Surprisingly, athletes don’t actually feel the tape when it’s applied correctly. They are able to perform the required movement patterns naturally without feeling any restriction from the tape.
So what’s up with all the welts on Michael Phelps? Those marks are from the ancient therapy of cupping. Cupping involves the use of cylinders referred to as ‘cups’ made of glass, plastic or bamboo. With the use of heat or a small air pump, a vacuum is created which suctions the skin into the cup, ultimately creating space between the skin, the muscle and the fascia (a wrapping around the muscle). This space allows for increased blood flow into the region thereby promoting circulation and healing. It is the increased blood flow under the skin that creates the bruising that often appears after treatment. Cupping itself is not painful, and athletes will often report feeling pressure similar to that of a deep tissue massage. Some of the reported benefits include:
Quicker recovery from muscle fatigue
Reduction in swelling
Although these therapies do offer significant benefit to athletes, they won’t lead you to Olympic gold overnight. If you’re a weekend warrior or elite athlete in your own mind, consider these therapies as tools to help you with muscle fatigue and recovery.