By now, you’ve probably seen people wearing it. Brightly colored or black tape standing in stark contrast to the skin, applied to various areas of the body in sometimes dramatic pattern. More often, you probably don’t see it – because it’s hiding beneath clothing or shoes. Regardless of where it is or what color it is, you may wonder exactly what it does? And what is it?
Most of us are familiar with athletic tape – stiff(ish) white stuff designed to stabilize joints during athletic activity. This stuff is different. It is softer, more flexible, and stretchy. Most often, it is called kinesio-tape (the name Dr. Kenzo Kase gave it way back in the 70’s), but there are a ton of different (brand) names out there today.
A little background
The ‘original’ Kinesio tape was designed back in the 70’s in Japan by a chiropractor and acupuncturist named Kenzo Kase. He developed the first tape of this kind with the goal of increasing the efficacy and achieving longer lasting results from manual therapy sessions. The tape was designed to have a similar elasticity to healthy human muscle, breathe well, stay in place for longer periods of time, and lift the skin microscopically.
What does the tape do?
When a muscle is injured, it loses some of its elasticity. The tape is designed to help augment the healing process and offer support for joints while not restricting any range of motion. At least in theory, the tape extends the benefits of manual therapy by providing extended soft tissue manipulation. When applied, the tape is supposed to activate certain types of mechanoreceptors (little receptors in the skin that respond to light touch, sustained pressure, texture, tension, etc) that alleviate pain. The microscopic lifting of the skin that I mentioned earlier creates interstitial space which allows for a decrease in inflammation in the taped area.
Does it work?
Lots of people I’ve talked to have relayed positive messages regarding their own use of kinesio tape, but I always like to take a look at any studies that have been done to see more objective analysis rather just than anecdotal support. There are more studies out there than I can count, but I’ve selected a few just to give you an idea of what’s out there. I’d encourage you to search Pubmed to see additional studies on therapeutic taping.
- This meta analysis of 10 studies concerning sports injuries concluded that “there was little quality evidence to support the use of KT over other types of elastic taping in the management or prevention of sports injuries.”
- This study that compared nonelastic sports tape with kinesio-type tape (elastic tape)showed that elastic tapes offered no effect on muscle activation
- This study looked at basketball players with chronic ankle sprains, and though it determined that taping didnt have a positive effect for the players in their functional performance tests, it had no negative effects, either.
- In a study of healthy college athletes, it was determined that taping did not have any positive effect on performance.
- This study shows that taping offered some increase in dynamic postural control in healthy individuals.
- Another study looked at healthy young women performing squat exercises, and determined that tape application prior to this exercise didn’t effect muscle pain or short sprint performance, but did help maintain muscle flexibility at day 2 of recovery.
- This study looked at the typical asymmetrical gait of stroke patients and found that the application of the tape to the paralyzed parts offered improvement in gait (ie, it made it less asymmetrical).
- One last one explores the effect of taping on lumbar spine flexibility. The subjects in this study showed increased flexibility in the lumbar spine at 24 and 48 hours after tape removal.
In short: mixed results. That’s the worst – right? Things are much easier when there’s a clear conclusion and subsequent action items. The good news is that kinesiotape (regardless of brand, color, or whatever) isn’t going to break the bank and isn’t going to hurt you. So go ahead and give it a try.