Since last week, people have been asking whether I have been sporting some stylish, new body art. In fact, I have had my foot and ankle covered in SpiderTech kinesiology tape to help heal a soft-tissue injury.
But while I am new to the world of kinesiology tape, kinesiology tape is not new to the world.
It dates back to the 1970s when Japanese chiropractor Kenzo Kase developed a cotton tape with an acrylic adhesive that could be used to treat a variety of conditions, from reducing inflammation to activating underused muscles. It also may offer some relief for cancer patients suffering from lymphedema.
The water-resistant tape was created to have the same weight, elasticity and thickness as skin, which means it can provide microcirculatory and structural in addition to cellular stimulation. Kevin Jardine, a chiropractor who developed the SpiderTech brand three years ago, refers to it as "treatment between treatment."
Kinesiology tape catapulted into public consciousness when cyclist Lance Armstrong referred to it in one of his books as "magic tape." Throughout the Beijing Olympics, many athletes could be seen wearing various patterns of what looked to be painter's tape, and it has become a staple among Ironman competitors.
There are several brands on the market and to the untrained eye there's little difference. They come in a roll format (average $10 to $20 a roll), stretch only lengthwise and can be cut to measure and applied anywhere on the body. Knees, shoulders and necks are the most common spots.
SpiderTech, however, offers a range of 16 "precuts" (average $10 a precut), to reduce the guesswork when applying the tape.
On the one hand, a precut is far more user-friendly than a standard roll. The Ankle Spider, as an example, consists of one long strip with a hole in the centre to accommodate two centre toes and a slit at one end to allow a range of motion up the posterior leg. To try to achieve this exact shape using strips cut from a roll would be a challenge.
But don't bodies come in all different shapes and sizes? Mr. Jardine says yes, adding that precuts are not limited to their designated body area, so a Knee Spider could be used on a shoulder and a Groin Spider could be used on the glutes (website: spidertech.com). "There was a lot of confusion in how to apply [the roll]" he says. "This offers a standardized way to implement the practice."
And if you are wondering why the brand name, he says it's because when people would see the tape applied, they say it looks like a spider.
Mark Scappaticci, a Toronto-based sports chiropractor who is a certified instructor in kinesiology tape, prefers customizing each application from the roll, maintaining that precuts often need to be modified and may not work as effectively. He says his patients will take pictures or film him applying the tape so that they can do it themselves the next time around. There are also scores of instructional videos online.
There is a definite art to the application. Mr. Jardine took great care in rubbing the tape along my skin as he laid it down. I have yet to try doing this myself.
Mr. Jardine, who has an integrative fitness and wellness facility called Urban Athlete in midtown Toronto, underscores that people should first seek professional diagnosis. "The goal is not to give a mechanism to self-diagnose," he says. "But in the interim, this can alleviate the discomfort."
While long-time users of the tape may turn to it for repetitive strain, Mr. Scappaticci adds that it is never a replacement for actual treatment and, in some cases, can prolong the recovery.
Work in Montreal drew me away from two treatments last week and the SpiderTape could not have come at a better time. While it did not heal my injury, it secured my foot in a way that provided some pain relief and staved off swelling. Mostly, it made me feel protected.
As an aside, my aesthetic ego appreciates that the tape comes in black, bright blue and pink in addition to beige (apparently, when first introduced in Japan, the blue signified "cool" and the pink "warm," but there's no additional difference). So as I continue to heal, I can at least enjoy the compliments that the tape looks like a fashion trend. But trends come and go, whereas kinesiology tape will be sticking around for some time.