Posted in Ella's blog posts

Sports performance, placebo effects and kinesio-tape

Author: Ella Ward, date published: 29/08/13

Kinesio tape

Kinesio®-tape (KT) is widely used by athletes despite its unexplained performance benefits and clinical evidence of its futility (Kamper & Williams, 2013; Stedge et al., 2012). There are anecdotal reports ranging from improvements in circulation to greater strength, but researchers suggest these improvements in performance are due to a placebo effect, not from the KT itself (Stedge et al., 2012). This blog explores the issues associated with KT tape and associated limitations of research, as well as the psychological concepts of the placebo effect.

A method commonly employed by researchers to measure the efficacy of KT is the improper application of KT. For example, in a study by Ayter and colleagues in 2011, researchers used a treatment (proper application of KT) and a placebo group (sticking plaster without stretch) to assess the effect of KT on patellofemoral pain syndrome. Researchers did observe increases in pain, proprioception, balance and muscle strength with both the placebo and treatment groups (Aytar et al., 2011). However, as no control group was employed in this study, we are unable to determine whether the improvements observed were due to a placebo effect, the effect of taping alone or from the KT (Beedie, 2007). In addition, more research is needed in the field in competitive environments, rather than in a laboratory environment for KT to be accepted as therapeutic intervention in sport and performance (Beedie, 2007).

Despite the vast amount of research in the area of placebos, the phenomenon has remained largely unchallenged in the area of sport and performance (Stedge et al., 2012). In many studies, like the one above, researchers aim to investigate the efficacy of KT as a placebo assuming the outcome is a result of a placebo effect. However, if we are directly observing its effect, studies would be best served by measuring what actually causes it and explaining how and why this effect is observed in this situation, not just assuming a placebo effect has occurred. It is also important to note that care must be taken when measuring and observing the placebo effect due to psychosocial influences, as both belief and expectancy have been acknowledged as determining factors in the efficacy of placebo effects (Beedie, 2007; Benedetti et al., 2005). As these factors are not accounted for in many of the studies investigating the efficacy of KT, it may be beneficial to also conduct questionnaires and interviews in conjunction with clinical trials to generate an understanding of one’s psychosocial expectations and beliefs.

One’s belief influences the outcome in the belief of receiving a beneficial treatment (Beedie, 2007). However it is difficult to measure, quantify and determine the strength of one’s belief of its effects on athletic performance. For example, would a recreational athlete with the same belief as an elite athlete show a greater improvement in performance? And if the athlete was Usian Bolt, could he physiologically improve his performance anymore or is it at the “limit” of belief and placebo effect?

In comparison, expectancy refers to how an individual’s behaviour is influenced by the expectation of how they are meant to feel (Aktas & Baltaci, 2011). If we can elicit a placebo effect by verbally persuading someone of how they are expected to feel, it would also be of interest to examine the effect of reversing expectancy and whether this results in decrements in performance. Expectancy in KT application may also be associated with Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning (Benedetti et al., 2005). However, the majority of studies look at the immediate effect after its application, not the effect of repeated trials on the efficacy of KT (Aytar et al., 2011; Stedge et al., 2012).

Overall, KT and the placebo effect are relevant in sport and performance, as psychologists can manipulate this intervention to enhance athletic performance; avoiding more intrusive, unethical and expensive treatment methods. However, sport practitioners and psychologists need to be confident that KT is actually beneficial for their athletes in order to recommend it as a therapeutic intervention, and convincing empirical evidence is not available yet. Therefore, practitioners need to make an informed appraisal, taking into consideration the individual’s specific psychosocial context. As it is a harmless intervention, and there potential for performance improvement, there is no harm in using Kinesio-tape.

Now after reading this, please vote on this pole:

Reference list:

Image sourced from Flickr creative commons; http://www.flickr.com/photos/zenmama/8653547400/

Aktas, G., & Baltaci, G. (2011). Does kinesiotaping increase knee muscles strength and functional performance? Isokinetics & Exercise Science, 19(3), 149-155.

Aytar, A., Ozunlu, N., Surenkok, O., Baltacı, G., Oztop, P., & Karatas, M. (2011). Initial effects of kinesio® taping in patients with patellofemoral pain syndrome: A randomized, double-blind study. Isokinetics & Exercise Science, 19(2), 135-142.

Beedie, C. J. (2007). Placebo effects in competitive sport: Qualitative data. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 6, 21-28.

Benedetti, F., Mayberg, H. S., Wager, T. D., Stohler, C. S., & Zubieta, J.-K. (2005). Neurobiological mechanisms of the placebo effect. The Journal of Neuroscience, 25(45), 10390-10402.

Kamper, S. J., & Williams, C. M. (2013). The placebo effect: powerful, powerless or redundant? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(1), 6-9.

Stedge, H. L., Kroskie, R. M., & Docherty, C. L. (2012). Kinesio Taping and the circulation and endurance ratio of the gastrocnemius muscle. Journal of Athletic Training, 47(6), 635-642.

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Author:

This blog was started for a Uni subject, and has since evolved into a place where I can voice my thoughts, typically about coaching and sport. I grew up in Sydney, then moved to Canberra for some further study in 2011 and when I finished in 2014 I moved up to Brisbane. I have played, coached and generally been involved with volleyball since 2013. As of 2017 I am now the QAS Volleyball Assistant Coach.

8 thoughts on “Sports performance, placebo effects and kinesio-tape

  1. Ella, you provided an insightful observation into the issue and I loved the reference to Usan Bolt and Pavlov’s theory, validly I thought. I would enjoy a broading, if you may, of your own experiences and view with regards to using KT tape?

  2. Hey Ella, this was an interesting read. I recently sustained a rectus femoris tear and found the KT really worked for me, however in chatting with another friend he found it did nothing for his injury. The placebo effect is interesting and I liked how you broke it down into the components ‘belief’ and ‘expectancy’ and the psychological role this plays. Would great to see more empirical evidence on KT someday soon.

      1. Hey Ella no not really, infact I wasn’t sure of what it did before using it but gave it a try and it seemed to work for me. The muscle feels fine now so it might well be a combination of time to heal/repair and KT

    1. Hi Stew, this phenomenon where some people seem to get results where others don’t is (unfortunately) not that surprising. But whilst placebo and the associated psychological effects are one possible solution, one that I have seen over and over again is simply a matter of application – that is, did the therapist who applied the Kinesio Tape actually know what they were doing, or had they just picked up a book and were using their best interpretation (correctly or not) of the theory.

      I personally consider that a “belief system” CAN affect performance but I also wholeheartedly believe that a correct application of Kinesio Tape is actually useful (and not a placebo). Outside of athletes, when you see the immediate effect on paediatrics or animals – populations that one wouldn’t consider to have some sort of predetermined belief in the outcome of the intervention – it kind of speaks for itself 🙂

      It’s a very interesting point that Ella raised about an elite level athlete and at what point they might start to have negligible placebo effects. The person who comes up with a way to measure and research that will be some sort of genius!

      I should declare that one of my jobs is to coordinate accredited courses, lectures, conference attendances and research on the Kinesio Taping Method in Australia. It is something that I am now doing because I saw the benefits of properly trained clinicians (ie, I overcame my scepticism and _then_ got the job, as opposed to the other way around!).

      BTW, the photo at the top of this post looks like a generic pre-cut application and not an actual Kinesio application – just out of interest 🙂

  3. Great article Ella! I reckon there is a huge psychological benefit in using KT, I just think its a very expensive thing to use just for that. I wonder if it would be anywhere near as popular if it wasn’t used by so many professional athletes?

  4. at the moment there are around 350 publications about KT, it seem more than a placebo effect, of course this effect can occur.

    KT seems can improve or assist the information pathway.
    more information maybe better decision or precision in the movement.

    we need one more time more research.

  5. A lot of the statements you make are invalid. For example, the Stedge article you speak about does not suggest in any way that KT acts as a placebo, but rather uses a placebo trial to completely disprove the fact that it is just a psychsomatic effect. I will be interested to hear your response on this.Just to note, I am currently doing research with kinesio-tape and thus have a good knowledge of the mechanisms etc.

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