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Injured Olympians Turn to Tape: The Sticky Science of Kinesio

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The neon tape swathing sprinters and swimmers alike, called Kinesio, is taking London by storm.

"It's all over the Olympics," said Dr. Jennifer Solomon of New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery.  "Athletes love it."

Developed by a Japanese chiropractor, Kinesio claims to cut pain and boost performance.  And judging by its prominence at this year's Games, athletes think it works.

"If you ask them, they say it does," said Solomon, team physician for the U.S. Tennis Association.  "But there's no solid scientific evidence that this tape helps."

Crafted from cotton and medical grade adhesive, Kinesio is more flexible than traditional tape.  And when strategically strewn along injured muscles, its gentle tug promotes circulation to help clear out damage, according to its maker.

"No one's claiming this is a cure," said Mike Good, international director for the Albuquerque, N.M.-based company.  "It's an adjunct therapy."  

But a slew of studies that failed to find bona fide benefits have some experts skeptical.

"It might have some small role in the rehab process," said Dr. Dennis Cardone, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.  "But without evidence, we can't say it's doing anything near what the company claims or what athletes using it say they feel."

The effort to tease out the tape's true benefits is complicated by the placebo effect.

"If an athlete's convinced the tape is helping and looks cool, it can certainly boost their confidence," Cardone said.

The waterproof tape, designed to stick for up to five days, sells for $6 a strip or $13 a role.  But buying it is only half the battle.

"If you don't know the proper taping technique, you're not going to get the results you want," said Good, adding that more than 100,000 athletic trainers worldwide have taken the paid Kinesio Taping course, about 10,000 last year in the United States alone. "The tape is just a tool."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio