James Harden is nearing the end of an incredible regular season campaign that’s worthy of MVP consideration, and his ability to stay healthy has been a primary reason for the Rockets’ overall success, when so many of his teammates have been lost for extended stretches due to various injuries.
Harden can be seen regularly sporting KT Tape on his right shoulder, but he isn’t injured — it’s a preventative measure to ensure those muscles and joints are behaving as they should.
Kinesiology tape in general has many in the industry skeptical as to whether it provides an actual health benefit, but Harden is a believer, as is Rockets’ Head Athletic Trainer Jason Biles.
“I’ve been in the NBA now eight years, and I’ve been using it probably seven or eight years, right when I came in,” Biles told NBCSports.com. “I like the KT Tape specifically because it promotes a sort of natural healing response, helping with swelling reduction, encouraging optimal movement and proper movement, the appropriate alignment of the joints. It gives the athlete great feedback of where their body is in space — we want them to be aware of if they’re in a vulnerable position, or if they’re in the proper position they can move optimally from.
“So, it’s the tape that we use for those things and also just to sort of encourage the movement that we would like. So if a joint tends to want to, say, become mal-aligned, then we can apply some tape to encourage the proper movement to achieve what the athlete needs on the court.”
A recent piece in the New York Times from Gretchen Reynolds isn’t so sure, and essentially says the claims of the tape providing concrete health benefits are, to this point, largely unsubstantiated.
“There is no solid, independent scientific evidence that kinesio tape does what it is supposed to do,” said Jim Thornton, the president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the head trainer at Clarion University in Pennsylvania. “It is possible that it has health benefits” like improving muscle flexibility and reducing pain, he added, “but we just don’t know yet.”
Scientifically, the jury may still be out. But if athletes believe it is helping, it can create a legitimate placebo effect, which ultimately can help to achieve the desired result.
“What I would say is that with the use of the tape these days, the athlete, it helps them psychologically to deal with feedback and support, and encourages their optimal movement,” Biles said. “Then, there’s immediate buy-in. So that’s really all that matters when it comes to the evidence that you need.
“We’ve used it on anything from ankle sprains to reduce edema, to help support the arches or the tendons and muscles in the feet and lower legs to encourage them to come back a little bit quicker, and it helps with that. We’ve used it for different tendinitises, whether it’s a common jumper’s knee, low back strains, cervical strains and shoulder strains, they seemed to really respond well to the tape. And one of the major benefits to the tape is postural awareness, and cueing the athlete to be in a good posture so that they can move correctly from that. I think that’s one of the major benefits.”
James Harden isn’t injured, and in fact has only missed one game all season (and that had nothing to do with his health). But he wears the tape anyway, simply as a preventative measure.
“It’s more injury prevention,” Biles said, when asked if the tape was treating a current injury Harden was experiencing. “We have used KT Tape on plenty of the athletes, including James, for injury. But the tape job you see on his shoulder is more for injury prevention. Obviously James is a very physical player, and so he takes a lot of contact on that right side. We just try to encourage as much stability there as we can.”
Harden is a wrecking ball when attacking the basket, and durability is the key to the way he plays the game. He’s made more free throws this season than any other player has attempted, so creating contact is extremely important. And even if the health benefits of the tape can’t be quantified just yet, Harden says the mental aspect of wearing it has been huge for him during what may end up being an MVP season.
“Whenever I’m sore, whether it’s my knee or my shoulder, putting the KT Tape on gets the blood flowing and circulating around my body,” Harden said. “I’m able to go out there and play free, not really thinking about injuries.
“It just gives me that confidence. It gives me confidence to go out there and not worry about getting injured. If you’re playing free and you’re confident, great things are going to happen on the court.”