To alleviate pain, facilitate recovery, and improve performance, athletes try many treatment modalities. But are these modalities effective? The answers might surprise you.
The colorful kinesiotape made an international impact when the world spotted lightly clad beach volleyball Olympians wearing tape in intricate patterns all over their bodies. Since then, it’s hard to turn on an athletic event and not see kinesiotape.
Manufacturers claim that it reduces pain and improves circulation. Systematic Reviews, a type of publication that gathers multiple research papers together to produce a grand conclusion based on evidence, would suggest that kinesiotape has little effect on those with, for example, chronic low back pain and patellofemoral pain. There is often a reduction in pain with taping, whether applied correctly or incorrectly. Also, almost exclusively, the marginal benefits are short-term, and there seems to be no benefit to athletic performance.
Bottom Line: If kinesiotape makes you feel better, use it but don’t expect significant or long-term effects and don’t pay too much for it.
Icing and Heating
Cooling modalities like ice and cryotherapy are often used to promote recovery and reduce pain/swelling after an acute soft tissue injury like a sprained ankle. Cryotherapy is usually applied to the whole body, and there is insufficient evidence to support its use in recovery after exercise. There is also no great understanding of adverse events related to whole-body cooling.
Ice — often applied acutely to injuries like a sprained ankle — may have little or no additional effect beyond compression concerning swelling but may reduce pain in the short term.
Heat seems effective when coupled with stretching to improve range of motion. Still, there is surprisingly little data on the effect of heat application in athletes, whether that be for recovery or performance.
Bottom Line: Ice and heat are inexpensive applications, so if they make you feel better, you should use them within prescribed parameters.
Athletes are in the habit of rolling on cylinders of foam to help with recovery and improve flexibility. Generally, foam rolling is done immediately before or after an event or bout of exercise. Pre-rolling has shown benefits in sprint performance and flexibility, although the benefit was small in both cases. Post-rolling might help lessen muscle-related pain, and adding vibration may have an even more significant effect.
Bottom Line: Foam rolling is probably best used after a strenuous bout of exercise to reduce the sensation of muscle pain. The effect is likely short in duration.
The best advice may be to not invest a lot of money in doing what you see on TV. Some of these interventions have no or unknown effect, and the others have a limited short duration impact. They are, at best, an inexpensive adjunct to training, sleeping, and eating right.
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