Should I use Kinesio ® Tape?

By Jillian Seamon, MS, LAT, ATC


We have all seen it on our favorite athletes. The bright strips of tape laid across her shoulders, or over her knee.

Kinesio ® tape (KT) was first unveiled at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and has only been growing in popularity since, especially when Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist, Kerri Walsh, sported KT in the 2008 Games.

It’s now seen in athletes of all levels

and non-athletes….

What Is KT Tape??

KT is an adhesive, elastic therapeutic taping method theorized to enhance circulation and lymphatic drainage, thereby increasing muscular activation and function.

When Dr. Kenzo Kase developed the tape in 1979, he designed it to mimic the outermost layer of the skin- the epidermis.

It is porous, breathable, and can stretch the 40-60% of its resting length (like the skin of the low back, back of the knee, and neck).

KT tape claims to work by microscopically lifting the skin, leaving small pathways for blood flow and lymphatic drainage.

Theoretically, more blood / lymphatic flow = better functioning muscles and joints.

The official Kinesio ® Tape website states:“After approximately 10 minutes, the conscious recognition of the tape decreases, however, the proprioceptive input to the body and brain continues.”

What that means is that you forget you have it on, but the tape continues sending feedback to the brain. (1)

KT taping claims its benefits include:

  • facilitate or inhibit muscle function

  • alter proprioception

  • decrease pain

  • increase range of motion

  • increase muscular strength

What Does The Research Say?

In a quick scholar.google.com search of “kinesio tape”, about 9,000 results are found.

The systematic reviews and meta-analysis are the ones focused on in this article since they are the highest level of evidence because they are a review of all of the available research for a particular topic.

While there are plenty of research done, conclusions about the efficacy of KT are varied.

At best, KT is a good supplement to an already well-designed rehabilitation strengthening plan.

At worst, it’s a waste of money.

Can KT Tape Facilitate Or Inhibit Muscle Function?

One of the claims of KT is that depending on which direction the applicator pulls the tape, either in the direction of origin to insertion or insertion or origin of the muscle, the muscle is either facilitated or inhibited.

AKA if you pull it top to bottom, it helps the muscle work, or if you pull bottom to top, it stops the muscle from lengthening too far.

However, a study by Cai et al. (2), in which they tested people who had no idea what KT was (so as to remove any bias), found that there were no significant differences in maximum strength, EMG activity, and self-perceived performance in the facilitatory KT, inhibitory KT, and tapeless conditions.

Can KT Tape Alter Proprioception?

KT also claims to have proprioceptive effects, which can alter the way you move.

Proprioception is an awareness your brain has about your body and its movement in space (related to balance!).

Like mentioned earlier, because of the KT similarity to the skin, you actively forget you have it on, but the brain still knows its there.

In a study by Griebert et al. (3), researchers tested the way people with shin splints walk, and the way they step on or “load” their foot. With KT taping, there was a decreased rate of medial loading in patients with MTSS (medial tibial stress syndrome=shin splints)…AKA these people changed the way they walk because of the tape on their shin.

Can KT Tape Minimize Musculoskeletal Pain?

In a systematic review by Lim and Tay (4), researchers concluded “Kinesio taping is superior to minimal intervention for pain relief. Existing evidence does not establish the superiority of Kinesio taping to other treatment approaches to reduce pain and disability for individuals with chronic musculoskeletal pain.”

This means researchers found that utilizing KT tape better-provided pain dissipation than doing nothing.

However, KT tape was far less superior in reducing musculoskeletal pain when compared to other methods such as strengthening exercise in rehabilitation. (4)

**This athlete can benefit WAY more from improving her running technique and strengthening her muscles than using a piece of KT!

Another systematic review performed by Parreira et al. (5) looked at the overall effectiveness of KT for common ailments such as knee pain, shoulder pain, chronic low back pain, neck pain, and plantar fasciitis.

Despite their claims, researchers found KT tape is no more effective compared to a placebo tape, manual therapy, rehabilitation exercises, and other conventional physiotherapy methods. (5)

That’s right….KT taping is no more effective than a PLACEBO.

Can KT Tape Increase Muscular Strength?

Csapo and Alegre performed a meta-analysis (6) to determine if KT really can help to increase muscular strength.

They found 19 studies with a total of 530 participants, with a conclusion that the potential to increase strength with KT tape is negligible.

Aka, NO WAY.

Can KT Tape Effectively Treat And Prevent Sports Injuries?

In a study performed by Williams et al. (7), researchers found little quality evidence to support the use of KT over other types of elastic taping.

“KT may have a small beneficial role in improving strength, the range of motion in certain injured cohorts and force sense error compared with other tapes, but further studies are needed to confirm these findings.”(7)

The results of the reviews discussed in this article were not very favorable for the use of KT for structural benefits.

So then why do so many people still use it?

You probably know someone who has used KT and noticed a difference in the way their injured body part feels.

This is called anecdotal evidence. While this is a lower level of research compared to the meta-analyses discussed above, it should still be accounted for!

How you feel matters!!

So should I use KT tape?

Like I say about most things, it’s a tool in the toolbox.

If you are going to use it, be sure you understand KT tape is not doing anything structurally to your injury.

BUT it could have an effect on how you perceive pain or discomfort!

Think of KT tape less of a way to recover from injury and more of a way to relieve your pain from the injury!

Kind of like static stretching or foam rolling….

If you do decide to use KT tape, make sure you have it put on by someone who is educated in the method, someone who understands WHY it is being utilized.

There are key components like how to lay the strips of tape, the amount of tension that should be pulled, what cut of tape (straight I, Y, or X) to use, and also different brands of tape that vary in quality that only a professional will be able to adequately apply.

Outside of a pain reliever ,KT tape seems to be a poor tool when helping tissues RECOVER from injury and reducing the chances of those injuries from occurring again.

There are plenty of better tools for that, such as resistance exercise.

Rehabilitation of your injury should include strengthening the muscles that are injured AS WELL as the entire kinetic chain!

Other rehabilitation components such as balance and range of motion exercises are also important for recovering from injury.

We get it, we all want the quick fix!

But the quick fix is more often than not, the incorrect one.

It’s easy to be lazy and want a passive means to recovering like sticking a piece of tape on.

But actual injury rehabilitation and future injury risk reduction require more active modalities!

If you are a female athlete suffering from a sport related injury and want to WORK to improve your recovery time and reduce your risk of future injury, fill out our sport injury rehab intake form!

References

  1. What is Kinesio Tape? Retrieved fromhttps://kinesiotaping.com/about/what-is-kinesio-tape/

  2. C. Cai, I.P.H. Au, W. An, R.T.H. Cheung. Facilitatory and inhibitory effects of Kinesio tape: Fact or fad?Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. Volume 19, Issue 2, 2016. Pages 109-112.

  3. Maggie C. Griebert, Alan R. Needle, Jennifer McConnell, Thomas W. Kaminski.Lower-leg Kinesio tape reduces rate of loading in participants with medial tibial stress syndrome,Physical Therapy in Sport, Volume 18, 2016, Pages 62-67.

  4. Lim ECW, Tay MGX. Kinesio taping in musculoskeletal pain and disability that lasts for more than 4 weeks: is it time to peel off the tape and throw it out with the sweat? A systematic review with meta-analysis focused on pain and also methods of tape application. Br J Sports Med2015;49:1558-1566.

  5. Patrícia do Carmo Silva Parreira, Lucíola da Cunha Menezes Costa, Luiz Carlos Hespanhol Junior, Alexandre Dias Lopes, Leonardo Oliveira Pena Costa. Current evidence does not support the use of Kinesio Taping in clinical practice: a systematic review.Journal of Physiotherapy. Volume 60, Issue 1, 2014, Pages 31-39.

  6. Robert Csapo, Luis M. Alegre. Effects of Kinesio® taping on skeletal muscle strength—A meta-analysis of current evidence. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 18, Issue 4, 2015, Pages 450-456.

  7. Williams S, Whatman C, Hume PA, et al. Kinesio taping in treatment and prevention of sports injuries. A meta-analysis of the evidence for its effectiveness.Sports Med 2012;42:153–164.