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Power of Placebo and Celebrity, Part 4

By Marcus | In Psychology | on October 24, 2011

See also: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Looking at the photo above, you may think those women at the CrossFit Games were bringing back the epaulette, but it’s actually some stuff called Kinesio Tape (aka KT).  According to the official KT website, this tape can:

  • Re-educate the neuromuscular system
  • Reduce pain
  • Enhance performance
  • Prevent injury
  • Promote improved circulation and healing

This tape has been around for some time, but came to some prominence during the 2008 Olympics when rolls were donated and prominently seen being used by volleyball player Kerri Walsh. (Slick product placement by KT!) It’s caught fire within the CrossFit world after some top athletes were seen wearing the same stuff. As I’ve talked about before, Authority can be a powerful influential tool and if the top athletes use it, it must work, right? Well there’s another influence factor that then comes into play — Social Validation. What this means is that once you see some of your peers (fellow CrossFitters) wearing this magical tape, you may be likely to accept that it has to have some actual benefit. But is this without merit and does it pass the logic test?

In doing a search, I came across a single study that was done on KT and the results were underwhelming. According to the KT inventor, all the magic of KT is in the proper application. This study compared the recommended KT application to a sham tape application and found:

…over time, KT appears to be no more efficacious than sham taping at decreasing shoulder pain intensity or disability.

I also found a site that had a look to see if the logic of KT passed the logic test. They considered the advertised benefits of KT I listed at the beginning of this post and asked:

And how does it do all that? Well, it:

• Creates a lifting effect which improves circulation and relieves pain
• Tension on tape has the ability to relax or stimulate muscles

Got that? Nah, me neither. As explanations go, it’s a bit scant. Supposedly, the tape lifts the skin, and then all these wonderful benefits follow from said lifting action.

Actually, at this point, I’m even unclear as to how it can lift anything. It’s tape, it is stuck directly to the skin, and it just sits there. Is it an antigravity tape?  That would lift the skin. Maybe they mean that it lifts the skin when you have to take it off, but before that, one has to wear the tape for the suggested 3 to 4 days and look like a bit of a tit. What the tape does do, if it is stretched before applying to the skin, is provide “a constant pulling (shear) force to the skin over which it is applied.” Fine, but I’d want a wee bit more proof before believing it can therefore ‘re-educate the neuromuscular system’.

Better yet, that same site links to a news story talking about KT at the ’08 Olympics that interviews a physical therapist who provides some priceless soundbites:

“I mean it works for some people and it doesn’t work for others. I’ve put it on patients and they’ve felt an immediate difference. I’ve put it on patients and they haven’t felt a single thing.”


[Physical therapist Michelle] Miller said there are no clinical studies proving the tape works. But if the athletes like it, why not use it

If that doesn’t sound like a placebo, I don’t know what is! Worse yet, it sounds about as much of a scam as the Power Balance bracelet with much the same marketing hype (pro athletes seen using it, little to no science behind it). So what is a person to do?? In the conclusion to this series on Thursday, I will give you tips on how to avoid getting sucked into these snake oil pitches in the future.

WOD 10.24.11

Bench Press 3×5 or Wendler

500m Row
30 Burpees
10 Shoulder to OH

4 Comments to "Power of Placebo and Celebrity, Part 4"

  • kathy says:

    October 24, 2011 at 8:24 AM -

    Well, if Kerri Walsh is wearing KT, then me too!! I want some.

  • Nik Werre says:

    October 24, 2011 at 9:57 AM -

    Just a note:
    live streaming of weightlifting at the pan am games. Could be more excited. Oh, I have class? Right……

  • Scott says:

    October 24, 2011 at 10:49 AM -

    Nice series Marcus. It’s amazing how much we are all influenced by this crap. I studied marketing in grad school and worked in marketing for a year, and I completely understand how easy it is for companies to manipulate their consumers. I would like to think that I’m at least a little more aware of these manipulations. I would like to think that I’m a little more immune to this crap. But I’m not. I’m always game to try something new and see if it “works” for me. Of course….is it just working as a placebo???

    Stay tuned for Marcus’s final installment….

  • CrossFit Intrepid » Power of Placebo and Celebrity, Part 5 says:

    October 27, 2011 at 6:02 AM -

    […] See also: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 […]

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