It seemed Kinesio taping was a well-kept secret in the world of sports medicine.
Until a few weeks ago.
Then American Kerri Walsh stepped into the international spotlight - and onto the beach volleyball court in Beijing to win gold.
Suddenly, the crazy pattern of black tape across her right shoulder was a point of intrigue.
As coverage continued, athletes all over the world were showing up to their Olympic events with patches of it in flesh tones, black, blue, pink, green.
Maj. Mark Thelen, chief of physical therapy service at Winn Army Community Hospital on Fort Stewart, immediately recognized the tape.
"Several years ago, I was just flipping through a (physical therapy) magazine and saw it," Thelen said.
A phone call later, he had an instructional video, supplies and started "trying it out."
He eventually got certified to use it.
"I liked the results," Thelen said. "And that spurred me on to do research."
In July, Thelen and two other military doctors published their findings in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.
"It turned out to be a useful treatment adjunct," Thelen said. "It's not a cure-all."
He added that used in conjunction with other therapy, Kinesio taping can greatly decrease pain for patients suffering from acute shoulder injuries.
All in the taping
Thelen said the secret of the success is partly the tape itself.
A product designed to mimic human skin, combined with unusual taping patterns, the product in effect helps push injured muscles into the proper position for movement.
The tape is versatile, too.
It can be stretched out or placed over stretched skin, depending on the level of support each patient requires.
Unlike traditional medical tape that loses its hold quickly, Kinesio tape can hold for up to four days.
"The biggest thing I've seen is that it is effective while the tape is holding," said Derek Johnson, a physical therapist with Chatham Sports Medicine. "And it stays on for several days."
But for patients with active, athletic lifestyles, Johnson said, complaints abound.
Sometimes it is hard for patients to find the tape, making it difficult to replace after several days of participating in sports.
Plus, trainers and doctors who use the tape are certified in the taping procedure, which can also require some dexterity from patients trying to reapply on their own.
"For someone going back into a sports regimen and having a personal trainer, it is ideal," Johnson said. "But for weekend warriors, it can be challenging to be constantly taping themselves."
In the journal study, Thelen said two groups of patients, including soldiers at Fort Stewart, were taped with Kinesio.
One group had two areas, like giant Band-Aids, placed over the shoulder.
"This was really to rule out the placebo effect," he said.
A second group had tape placed in patterns along a shoulder and upper arm, as per the manufacturer's recommendation.
The second group reported significant improvement in pain.
"It's all in how you do it and the type of stretch you put on it," Thelen said. "It really serves different purposes. It is very versatile in that sense."
But at the end of the day, Thelen said, it is just another tool for doctors to use to help patients.
"I think it can be best used in conjunction with other things, like therapeutic exercise," he said. "It should be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan."