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Good balance is obviously an important requirement for skiing and snowboarding, but also for daily activities.  Research has found that balance ability can be negatively affected when muscles are fatigued, likely due to a deterioration of the person’s ability to process the sensory information from their body but also the external environment.  In particular, the muscles of the knee joint seem to be important for maintaining good balance and when fatigued, potentially increase the risk of knee injuries.  A recent study completed in Innsbruck, Austria at the Ski and Alpine Sports Centre might help you avoid knee injuries on the snowfields this winter.

In this study, they selected 12 young males with recreational level sporting background, and tested their balance ability at baseline, and then after 30 minutes of downhill walking on a treadmill, designed to induce fatigue in the quadricep muscles.  The balance test was conducted on the “Biodex Balance System” which is a computerised system that gives a balance score based on the amount of postural sway measured.  The test was conducted with the subjects standing on one leg, with their eyes open, trying to stay as still as possible for 20 seconds, repeated 3 times.  The subjects were tested before the treadmill walking test, then immediately after.  They were randomised to do the test with or without kinesiology tape around their knee/quads, and then completed the other testing condition one week later.

The authors found that using kinesiology tape on the subjects’ knees/quads did not change their balance ability at baseline (before the treadmill walking task), but the “use of kinesiology tape mitigated the exercise-related deterioration of balance observed when no tape was used”.  In other words, balance was worse after fatigue, but when taped, the loss of balance ability was minimal.  Interestingly, when not taped and when fatigued, according to the balance system software, the subjects’ balance was significantly worse and not far off that which has been found to occur after ACL rupture!  Also interesting was the fact that those with worse balance at baseline seemed to have a more pronounced benefit of having the kinesiology tape in place, and those with good baseline balance had less benefit from the tape.

The authors concluded that kinesiology tape may help to “counter the negative effects of physical exertion, thereby limiting or even preventing exercise-related impairment of balance ability”.  If this is more pronounced in those with poor balance to start with, then it may be exciting news for the ‘weekend warriors’ on the ski fields who are probably the most over-represented group in knee injuries on the mountains!  Perhaps taping their knees will potentially mitigate some fatigue related injuries, but probably won’t help the lack of balance that can occur from “apres-ski” activities!

As with most studies, this one has some limitations.  It has a small sample size and may have limited generalisablility as the subjects were all young males that were relatively fit and active.  However, it is now one of a number of studies that are showing similar findings – that is, kinesiology tape tends not to improve balance or strength at rest, but can help prevent some of the negative effects of fatigue.

Hosp, S., Folie, R., Csapo, R., Hasler, M., & Nachbauer, W., (2017). Eccentric exercise, kinesiology tape and balance in healthy men. Journal of Athletic Training doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-52.3.11