The Truth Behind Taping Your Running Injuries

Every year I run many different races in cities all over the world. Over the past few years, I've noticed a growing trend--runners covered with tape. I've seen tape in every color of the rainbow, taped in every direction possible, but no matter what the color or style, usually by the end of the race the tape is hanging off and the runner is limping across the finish line. That is, if he or she even made it there. Taping represents one of the biggest problems when it comes to the management of running injuries: the quick fix. People want a fast cure with little to no work; hence, magical tape.

Even when used appropriately, taping is never meant to be a cure for any injury. Specialized taping such as the McConnell and Kinesio taping techniques have been used by physical therapists as an adjunct to other therapies for treating various conditions. Often taping is used in conjunction with other treatments to enhance body awareness training, maintain proper posture, and achieve optimal joint biomechanics during low impact, low velocity activities. In this case, it's not what the tape does, it's about how it reminds you of what you should be doing. That said, practicing conscious awareness of your body will achieve the same result without the sticky mess. Unfortunately the widespread misuse of therapeutic tapes has lead to the misconception that they are a cure for any given running injury.

Tape manufacturers will claim that their tape pulls the skin away from muscles allowing more circulation and blood flow, thus promoting healing. In reality, nothing causes more vasodilation and blood flow than running. Why use tape for increased circulation when this is a natural response to running anyway?

Another claim of tape manufacturers is that their special tape will support the muscle, realign structures, distribute forces, etc. No matter what the color, size, or "special materials," it is still tape on the skin and it will never be able to control muscles during an activity as powerful and dynamic as running. Once we begin actively moving and sweating, the false sense of stability the tape initially provided is gone, the tape peels off, and we are left with a decorative streamer trailing behind us.

Placebo medicine works very well for self-limiting problems, but it never works for an ongoing problem like a running injury. Not only will tape not cure the injury, it could make it worse. The tape provides a false sense of security and stability, and by running with tape you could be doing more damage to your existing injury. Not to mention those who wrap the tape so tightly around their leg that they create a tourniquet in order to run through pain. The only way to properly manage a running injury is to address the injured structure itself and fix the components of running that are distressed. This can be achieved by seeking the help of a skilled, professional physical therapist with experience treating running injuries. There is no quick fix, there is no secret cure, and there is no magic tape. It is still tape on skin, and it will never manage a running injury.

Bruce Wilk is a board-certified physical therapist, a certified running coach, and director of Orthopedic Rehabilitation Specialists in Miami, Florida.

Copyright, The American Running Association

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