I recently had the opportunity to take a Kinesiotaping (KT) course and am finding it very useful in clinic. You may at some point have seen an athlete on TV sporting funky patterns of brightly-colored tape, and thought, “What’s that supposed to do?”
There are pages and pages in the course manual aimed at answering that question, but let me try to sum it up:
Uses: KT tape can decrease pain and muscle fatigue, increase range of motion, support instabilities, provide cueing for proper form, decrease swelling, etc. It targets muscle imbalance, postural dysfunction, circulation/lymphatic problems, ligament/tendon/joint injury, scars, and incorrect movement patterns.
How it Works: KT tape creates a lift on the skin that takes pressure off deeper tissues and increases blood/lymph flow. It uses sensory receptors in your skin to either promote or inhibit muscle activity (depending on the direction & amount of tension with which it is applied), and some application techniques can help improve tissue mobility.
Your inner skeptic may say, “Really? A bit of tape can do all that?” While many PTs, athletic trainers, and other professionals have found it extremely beneficial (as shown by its dramatic increase in popularity since its invention in the 70’s), it is helpful to also check the literature.
One systematic review published this year can offer a bit of insight. Seventeen randomized controlled trials were appraised, each comparing KT taping either to “minimal intervention” (eg, no tape, sham tape, etc) or to other methods for treating pain and disability.
The authors conclude that compared to minimal intervention, KT tape is superior for reducing pain. They also state that it is not superior to other types of intervention for reduction of pain or disability related to chronic pain. In addition, they found that in combination with exercise, KT tape may offer greater symptom relief than exercise alone.
Clinically, KT tape should never be used as a stand-alone treatment, and the results of the review show why. It is not meant to be a cure, but it is an excellent tool when used in conjunction with other appropriate treatments.
(Now you can sound smart to your friends and family next time you watch the Olympics!)
Lim ECW, Tay MGX. Br J Sports Med 2015;0:1-10. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-094151