Athletes must be falling apart because, suddenly, everyone from Novak Djokovic to Mario Balotelli is taped up. Are these elaborate weaves of coloured “Kinesio tape” a genuine leap forward in the treatment of sports injuries? Kinesio Tex tape, a strong elasticated tape, was developed more than 30 years ago by a Japanese chiropractor, Dr Kenzo Kase. He found that the application of the tape replicated some of the beneficial effects of manual therapy — such as massage — in reducing pain and soreness for injured patients. First seen on Sumo wrestlers, the tape took off when rolls were donated to 58 countries at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Sportsmen and women from Lance Armstrong to Serena Williams have sported various types of elastic therapeutic tape.

“It’s absolutely bloody brilliant,” says physiotherapist Paul Hobrough, who uses a variety of brands to help runners. Tape has been used to patch up injuries for years, but Hobrough finds Kinesio tape better than old-fashioned zinc, which prevents all movement. A common problem for runners is a mistracking kneecap; Kinesio tape can stretch and contract, inhibiting damaging movements but allowing the right kind, explains Hobrough. Runners can continue to train even when they have a problem. Hobrough is cautious about people attempting to apply the tape themselves and the perception that it is a panacea. It is a rehab tool, not rehab, he says.

Kase has a more expansive view of his tape’s benefits. Space, flow and cooling are, he explains, his basic concepts. He believes the source of many joint and muscle pains lies in the thin layer of skin between the epidermis and the dermis. Conventional therapies compress these areas. “I needed to create something to lift these layers.” The tape, he claims, opens the space between the epidermis and dermis, enabling a better flow of blood and lymphatic fluids. Through this flow, the body loses excessive heat that can damage it.

Academics are sceptical about this theory, which is unproven in mainstream science. “We need to be very cautious about the extent of the claims,” says John Brewer, a professor of sport at the University of Bedfordshire. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012