Image courtesy of runsmartproject.com
Image courtesy of runsmartproject.com

Kinesiology tape, also known as ‘KT’ tape or ‘Rock’ tape is being used by many athletes in an effort to speed recovery, heal previous injuries, provide stability, eliminate pain, and ultimately enhance performance. There are many that believe in the benefits of KT tape as evidenced by the Olympic athletes and others you may have seen competing in colorful stripes. There are also plenty of skeptics still looking for actual evidence or professional research to support the claims made by users of the tape.

Origins of kinesiology tape

Japanese chiropractor Kenzo Kase is credited with developing kinesiology taping in the 1970s. Chiropractors began using the tape to treat patients here in the United States in the 1990s. The practice spread to the athletic training community as evidenced by its widespread use in the 2008 summer Olympics.

More recently, it has been introduced to the consumer market by several companies marketing the tape as a “do it yourself” remedy. Instructions are usually found inside the box or on the web in the form of video tutorials cataloged by injury type or body part. Application of the therapeutic tape by anyone other than a trained practitioner has some concerned.

“Your best bet is to have a physical therapist, coach, or other qualified practitioner apply the tape.” –Gina Poertner, CHES

Several brands of kinesiology tape can be found at most specialty running, triathlon and cycling shops. Tapes are typically available in two-inch widths or pre-cut tape patterns specifically made for certain body parts such as knees, feet, and shoulders. Kinesiology tape comes in a variety of fun bright colors and patterns which seem to help celebrate the activity and vibrancy of sport rather than focus on the negativity of an injury.

How kinesiology tape works

Kinesiology tape is made up of cotton fibers with polymer elastic strands woven throughout. The tape allows for a full range of motion. The tape is placed in a variety of patterns depending on the injury. It is pulled to differing degrees of tension to create the desired effect.

When applied correctly, the tape can provide limited structural of muscular support, increase blood flow, and promote lymphatic drainage away form the injured area. When stretched and applied the tape lifts the skin and creates enough separation to make a small space for drainage and blood flow.

“We’re talking a very, very small space of separation, but it’s enough.” – Dr. Justin Pierce

There is much speculation as to the effectiveness of kinesiology tape. Many believe that the process of taping and the visible and physical reminder that it is there on your body may be causing a placebo effect.

“My view is that Kinesio tape probably has a significant placebo effect.” – Phillip Newton, physiotherapist

What the research says about kinesiology tape

There has not been conclusive scientific or medical evidence to confirm the effectiveness of the tape. Claims of pain reduction and rehabilitation are backed up by athlete experiences but the scientific literature remains inconclusive.

Researchers in New Zealand concluded that kinesio taping may have a small beneficial effect on strength and active range of motion of an injured area. However, it probably doesn’t help in other musculoskeletal outcomes, including pain, ankle proprioception, or muscle activity, the researchers concluded.

“The jury is still out on the hard and fast science of it.” – John Brewer, University of Bedfordshire

Personal Experience with kinesiology tape

I suffer from a strained tendon that runs from my big toe across the top of my foot. It swells and causes me pain and discomfort during and after my runs. I treat my foot with ice and that helps. I also lace my shoes differently to avoid pressure on the injured area. Rest seems to be the best medicine, but that is difficult when training for a marathon.

I decide to give the kinesiology tape a try. I bought a box of bright blue tape and read the instructions. Then, I found a great video online that seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. I tried it for a week and the pain was gone!

If the pain comes back, I tape up again during my runs. This usually goes on for a week or two and the cycle repeats. I know the root of the injury isn’t being addressed, but the symptoms are. And, more importantly, I can continue to run.

Thoughts?