You’ve definitely seen it on athletes during the London 2010 Olympics, and most recently in the World Cup in 2014. Now it is cropping up on the skin of athletes in all major league sports. What am I talking about? Kinesio Tape (Note, there are many brands such as SpiderTech and RockTape. For all further discussion, I am giving them all the umbrella term ‘kinesio tape’).
What is it?
Kinesio Tape (or Kin Tape) is a type of elastic therapeutic taping that offers symptomatic relief to underlying dysfunction to areas of the body in distress.
It was founded in 1979 by Dr. Kenzo Kase, a Japanese chiropractor and acupuncturist as a solution to problems with the current taping model. He discovered that many tapes used were too restrictive and could lead to exacerbating symptoms. Kin Tape differs from those used to wrap ankles and wrists.
His solution was to design a tape that was adhesive, resilient, flexible, and mimics qualities of the skin. Its elastic properties allow it to stretch between 40-60% of its resting length, recoils to its original length, has porous qualities due to its cotton design is acrylic and heat-activated making it durable when muscles movement occurs and is latex-free.
How is it applied?
There is more to it than just a rip and stick approach. The tape is applied while slightly stretched. When applied to the surface of the skin, it recoils due to its elastic properties and so moves the underlying skin, lifting it and promoting circulation and pain reduction. Kinesio Tape is also used to aide with promoting healing for areas that are bruised or where a contusion was sustained. The tape typically lasts between 3 – 5 days before some of the adhesion begins to wear off.
How does it help athletes?
The idea behind the success of the Kinesio Tape is fascial unloading – it reduces pressure in the connective tissue below the skin. It influences sensory motor coordination between the covered area and the brain establishing neurofascial, vasomotor and neuromuscular connections which allow the body to respond to the sensory feedback and allow the body to bring in nutrition to the affected area and remove metabolic waste. In addition, when the tape is applied to the skin, it unloads nocioceptors imbedded beneath the skin, offering pain reduction.
By manipulating the amount of tape used and direction of stretch in the tape as it is laid on the surface of the skin, the effects of the tape change. They can be compressive or decompressive, facilitate or inhibit muscles, and optimize or restrict motion. Here, you are being specific to the area of concern and applying a protocol to, for example, remove inflammation, promote healing, reduce pain, improve posture and optimize performance. Similar to manual therapy techniques where forces cause strain or counter-strain (muscle lengthening, contraction, or stability) and are done by hand, this similar principle is utilized by the tape, which can sustain these sensory changes after the tape is applied.
Why athletes like it
It is a popular choice because it is natural, requiring no drugs or surgery and allows the athlete to perform their sport with added support. The tape may also give them an edge over competition without it being considered a banned substance. It also gives athletes peace of mind knowing that the tape is therapeutic, allowing them to train through an injury while it is being rehabilitated.
Finally, when the tape is used in conjunction with other rehabilitation measures like chiropractic or physical therapy, it serves as an extension to many manual therapy techniques giving the athlete prolonged care between visits.
One can argue the effects of Kinesio Tape. Chiefly, there has not been much research conducted to validate its benefits. For example, this taping technique recently gained momentum after the Olympics, yet has been around since 1979. Further, if you compare the tape to a knee brace in runners – the data that shows support for the effectiveness of the brace is limited, yet when patients are asked, they often say they ‘don’t want to run without it’, leading some to pontificate as to whether the tape has a potential psychological effect with limited benefits.
What the research shows
- Kin Tape has shown improved recovery in patients with myofascial trigger point shoulder pain
- Non-athletes showed improved eccentric quadriceps endurance using Kin Tape
- Kin Tape is effective for short-term relief in chronic low back pain patients in conjunction with observed exercise therapy (OET) than those who received OET alone.
- Meta analysis of 10 articles, which included a control group, findings: “Kin Tape may have a small beneficial role in improving strength, ROM in certain injured cohorts…the amount of case study and anecdotal support for Kin Tape warrants well designed experimental research.”
The research in support of Kinesio Taping is limited, however there are large numbers of anecdotal support and case studies that are in favor of this treatment protocol.
Kinesio Taping has been illustrated to remove inflammation, promote healing, reduce pain, improve posture and optimize performance, and has found favor among professional athletes as well as non-athletes in acute and chronic pain.
Author’s Note: While I believe that there is anecdotal evidence in support of Kinesio Tape, and I myself have experienced success through two separate injuries, I feel that until sufficient research is published, it will never truly gain the notoriety it believes it deserves.
That said, I feel it is a useful tool that should be used in conjunction with a proper exercise rehabilitation protocol prescribed by a health care professional to promote accelerated healing. Further, it should not be relied on solely as a band-aid to remedy a significant injury. Corrective exercise, manual therapy, chiropractic and physical therapy modalities should also be included.
Williams, S., Whatman, C., Hume, P.A., & Sheerin, K. 2012. Kinesio Taping in Treatment and Prevention of Sports Injuries. Sports Medicine. 42(2): 153 – 164.
Paolini, M., Bernetti, A., Fratocchi, G., Magone, M, Parrinello, I., Del Pilar Copper, M., Sesto, L., Di Sante, L & Santilli, V. 2011. Kinesio Taping applied to lumbar muscles influences clinical and electromyographic characteristics in chronic low back pain patients. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 47: 237 – 244.
Vithoulka, I., Beneka, A., Malliou, P., Aggelousis, N., Karatsolis, K. & Diamantopoulos. 2010. The effects of Kinesio Taping on quadriceps strength during isokinetic exercise in healthy non athlete women. Isokinetics and Exercise Science. 18(1): 01 – 06.
Garcı´a-Muro F, et al., Treatment of myofascial pain in the shoulder with Kinesio Taping. A case report, Manual Therapy (2009), doi:10.1016/j.math.2009.09.002
Tieh-Chen Fu, et. al., 2008. Effect of Kinesio taping on muscle strength in athletes – A pilot study. J of Sci and Med in Sport. 11(2): 198-201.
Bialoszewski, D., Wozniak, W. & Zerek, S. 2009. Clinical efficiency of Kinesio Taping in reducing edema of the lower limbs. Ortopedia Traumatologia Rehabilitacja. 1(9); Vol 11: 46 – 54.