Olympians Give Kinesio Taping, Other Therapies High Marks

Olympic fans have been fascinated by the brightly colored tape and circular spots adorning the bodies of numerous team USA athletes. The tape has to do with “kinesiology,” or kinesio taping (pictured above). And those purplish circles are the end product of a healing practice called cupping.

Although harder to spot, some athletes also are sporting clusters of pinpoint, red spots. This rash-like reaction may be caused by the Graston Technique – a form of manual therapy also known as instrument-assisted, soft tissue mobilization. Many athletes and clinicians attest to the medical benefits of these techniques, and they are just part of the breadth of therapeutic treatments that keep these high-powered athletes going strong.

Kinesio Taping

Kinesiology, developed in the 1970s by Japanese chiropractor Kenzo Kase, is used to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, take pressure off overused muscles, aid rehabilitation and support muscles during a sporting event.

“The tape can be applied to the skin with different tension strengths and patterns,” said Cynthia McGee Laportilla, a physical therapist with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute. “It’s water resistant and can typically be worn for two to five days.”

Kinesio tape provides five physiological benefits: skin; circulatory and lymphatic; fascia; muscle; and joints, says Ms. McGee Laportilla.

Many experts say the tape works by slightly lifting the skin, which reduces friction between the tissues in the skin and increases circulation. Depending upon how the tape is applied, it can either stimulate nerve fibers just below the superficial fascia, or conversely inhibit them to reduce pain. The tape assists with the movement of blood and lymphatic fluid and helps take tension off of muscles and tissues.

“Unlike stiff athletic tape that usually is used for bracing and stabilizing, kinesiology taping helps stimulate tissue healing, rebalance muscle tension, support ligaments around loose joints and enhance range of motion,” Ms. McGee Laportilla explained.

Ms. McGee Laportilla uses kinesiology tape on her patients, which include athletes, non-athletes and even pregnant women experiencing back pain. Donning the tape at the Olympics is beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, who wears it to support her shoulder after having multiple surgeries.

Kinesio tape should be applied by a professional who has received formal training in Kinesio taping application and has a background in kinesiology, anatomy and physiology, advises Ms. McGee Laportilla. However, in some cases, a therapist can teach people how to tape certain areas on themselves.

Graston Technique

The Graston Technique is a modification of traditional hands-on soft tissue mobilization and was developed in the early 1990s by David Graston – an athlete who sought to speed up his recovery from a knee injury.

The technique uses six specifically designed instruments to break up fascial and scar tissue restrictions and detect areas of chronic inflammation or fibrosis. The massaging process temporarily causes inflammation in the area, which in turn increases blood flow to the area and promotes healing.  The treatment increases the mobility of muscles, tendons and ligaments and relieves pain, says Ms. McGee Laportilla, who utilizes the technique on patients with chronic, acute or post-surgical soft tissue conditions.

The Graston Technique can be applied to treat pain in the neck, shoulder, back, knee and foot as well as tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, Achilles tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Athletes who compete in track and field, swimming and cycling are among the Olympians whose therapeutic programs include the Graston Technique.

“The therapy should be performed by a Graston Technique-trained and licensed clinician,” advised Ms. McGee Laportilla. “Clinicians are instructed to adjust treatment intensity to minimize soreness during the treatment while maximizing its effect.”


Cupping is not new; it’s actually an ancient Chinese traditional medicine practice that dates back at least 2,000 years. Because there has been limited research on this complementary and alternative medicine treatment, Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute does not perform the therapy.

Cupping therapy involves applying a cup over the muscles and using heat or a pump to create vacuum pressure that draws blood to the surface and breaks small blood vessels. Athletic trainers and athletes say it mobilizes blood flow and promotes effective healing.

It’s obvious that swimming gold medalist Michael Phelps, as well as members of the men’s U.S. gymnastics team, soothe their sore muscles with cupping therapy

“These treatments are meant to supplement other conventional therapies that relieve pain and muscle stiffness or soreness,” said Ms. McGee Laportilla. “Whether caring for elite athletes or everyday patients, the goal is to deliver a combination of treatments that fosters faster rehabilitation and recovery.”

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