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Why Do Olympic Athletes Wear Colorful Tape? An Expert Explains

Being an Olympian is physically exhausting. Few people understand that more than Kerri Walsh Jennings, a mother of three who is heading to her fifth Olympics next month in Rio de Janeiro.

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One of the things Walsh Jennings does to preserve her body is turn to kinesiology tape, which she is often seen wearing during competition and has led viewers to wonder what the colorful stripes are.

Dr. Ted Forcum, a sports injury expert, explains to Us Weekly what kinesiology tape is and why Walsh Jennings is never seen without her trusty KT Tape (her preferred brand and sponsor).

“Research studies have indicated that kinesiology tape can benefit those who have a variety of musculoskeletal ailments and pain,” says Dr. Forcum. “Research also indicates that it can be used to aid in the lengthening of shortened or tight musculature. Additionally, studies indicate that the tape can improve the body’s positional awareness and balance.”

For the beach volleyball star, the tape helps her continue to spike the ball.

“Kerri wears the tape primarily to support her shoulder, which she has had multiple surgeries on, but has also worn it for spot pain on other parts of her body,” explains Dr. Forcum, who works closely with the brand and has taped many professional athletes throughout his career.

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The 37-year-old athlete — who was pregnant with her now-3-year-old daughter, Scout, at the London Olympics — claims the product helped her during all three of her pregnancies.

“I’ve used it during every pregnancy,” she tells Us Weekly. “A lot of low back application. You know, because I stayed very, very physical when I was pregnant, that was sanity to me. And I feel like, you know, there’s this thought that pregnant women are like soft, new flowers. And I’m like, ‘Hell no!’”

It’s hard to understand how a piece of tape could help support an injured shoulder or an exhausted back, but Dr. Forcum explains it to Us.

“The prevailing thought on how kinesiology tape works is by stimulating various nerve fibers just underneath the skin in the superficial fascia,” says Forcum, who is also one of the chiropractors for the PGA Tour. “Depending upon how the tape is applied it can either increase the firing of certain proprioceptive nerve fibers or conversely inhibit the firing of proprioceptive and pain sensory organs.”

KT Tape has become a favorite of Olympians, including 41-year-old marathon runner Meb Keflezighi, five-time Olympic water polo player Tony Azevedo and open water swimmer Haley Anderson.

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“Kinesiology tape is safe, effective and poses absolutely no risk for a positive drug test,” Dr. Forcum says. “Additionally, KT Tape allows for very specific targeting and fine-tuning with nearly immediate results. This can’t be achieved through oral medication. The tape application can help athletes move through a full and complete range of motion and aid their ability to balance and target. At the Olympic level there is such a fine margin in performance between an athlete watching a medal ceremony or standing on top of the podium. Kinesiology tape could provide this difference in performance in many circumstances.”

KT Tape is an official licensee of Team USA, so many incredible athletes will be using it during the summer games, and because it features the USA logo, they’ll also be showing off their patriotism.

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