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Injuries and Medical Advice

The Myth of Tape

Even pro climbers use therapeutic tape supposedly to support muscles and tendons, but it's really more of a fashion accessory than a help, says Dr. J.

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Even pro climbers like Jongwon Chon use therapeutic tape supposedly to support muscles and tendons, but it’s really more of a fashion accessory than a help, says a doctor who has studied such things. Photo: Vladek Zumr.

My boyfriend is falling apart but can’t rest because activity is critical for his mental wellness. He has torn meniscii in both knees, recurrent mid/upper back pain, and now epicondylitis (we think). We started bar workouts in addition to climbing and cross-country skiing, so no surprise that he is injured. I’m a massage therapist and have tried massage for him, as well as goading him into rest, stretching and strengthening. He dislikes all of those. I recently started looking at taping. Can you tell me whether taping will help?

—Christina

One of my mates, a good-looking Croatian chap, turned up at a mutual friend’s wedding looking rather schmick in a pair of dark-rimmed reading glasses.

“Walter, I didn’t know you wore glasses,”  I said.

He drew closer to my side and whispered, “They’re just glass but they make me look intelligent.”

Similarly, “therapeutic” skin tape is first and foremost a fashion accessory, more about personal badging than functionality. Broadcasting that you are a serious, tough-as-nails athlete, capable of battling through while looking like a sporty hipster, is an important thread of our cultural fabric.

There are now many brands of sports tape purporting all sorts of benefits. These tapes, magically woven to pull skin in one direction, are said to do everything from increasing blood flow, enhancing healing capacity and improving motor coordination (WTF!) to realigning your chakras. Applying skin tape of any sort to a sore elbow is as helpful as applying it to your head following a brain injury.

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The classic elbow brace encircling the upper forearm is equally useless notwithstanding that it may deviate some load through more healthy tissue and thereby reduce pain. Typically this achieves nothing more than getting you into deeper doo-doo because now you think your elbow is getting better, so off you go on the same training program that caused the trouble in the first instance.

Both approaches are simply applying a psychological Band-Aid in the hope of unbridled climbing. Slow down and think rationally. Your boyfriend needs to fix his elbows (sounds like he has tendonosis). Read the “Dodgy Elbow” articles on my website.

Exercise as a mental-health prescription is well-documented. Balancing injury and continued exercise to stay sane is a real conundrum. I have seen countless climbers break down in tears when told they need to take a few weeks off to heal acute injuries. A sports psychologist or even a good counselor can be helpful. That said, your boyfriend should be able to follow the elbow program in the “Dodgy Elbows” series and continue a reduced program of climbing/training.


This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 260 (November 2019).


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