The reality’s hard to escape:
It’s just sticky and bright-colored crepe.
It’s absurd, or it’s funny;
It’s made lots of money—
The placebo, Kinesio Tape
Just a few observations, prompted by a post on NPR’s Health Blog and by my observations of the US Olympic trials.
That brightly colored tape adorning the shoulders, legs, and abs of so many Olympians… oh, hell, I’ll say it–it’s a placebo. The NPR piece implies it, but won’t go out on that limb. There is plenty of profit motive behind the tape–which, of course, means that there would be all the more reason for them to highly publicize the research that proves it is more than placebo… and what we get instead are endorsements by athletes.
We’ve seen this before, of course, with various bracelets, with copper, or holograms, or magnets (actually, only click on those if you really doubt that they exist–these snake-oil sales-weasels don’t need you to give them hits. Search for the terms instead, and add “double-blind” to your search terms, and a vastly different story emerges). At the US trials, I saw another placebo, the “cold laser“, which also has tons of accolades and endorsements, but no double-blind experimental support. At the US trials, a behind-the-scenes peek showed us a “laser”(to my eye, it looked like a set of LEDs) being used while the athlete’s warmup suit was still on–I want to see the data on how much light penetrated the suit, let alone any significant layers of skin. The claims, though, were far-reaching, in terms of how much this treatment could balance the athlete’s energies, etc. etc. etc.
Thing is… The better an athlete is, the more chance they have to superstitiously associate some arbitrary event or object with competitive success. The thing about Olympians is, they tend to win (at least in the qualifying meets–otherwise they would not be Olympians). If every member of the trial squad was wearing their secret super-spy decoder ring, the winner is the one who gets to say it contributed to her or his success. (For one of the best presentations of the science here, see Stuart Vyse’s book “Believing in Magic: the Psychology of Superstition”)
Ah,but… the other thing is… even when some pre-performance ritual is superstitious, it can have very real effects on performance. “Placebo” is not at all the same as “no effect”. I would rather my favorite athletes be aware that their success is their own, and not the result of some bracelet, light, tape, or intercessory prayer. But I know my favorite athletes are human, and, as humans, are apt to be influenced by superstitious conditioning. It’s not foolish, it’s perfectly understandable… it’s just wrong.