By Dr. Erica Kirsch
Kinesiotape is a specific type of tape. It was first created in the late 1970’s by a Japanese chiropractor names Kenzo Kase. His original philosophy was to target the skin as a way to help the muscular system heal. Since that time, there are several brands of kinesiology tape on the market including Rocktape, Kinesiotape, KTtape, Spider Tech, etc. It is designed to have a large amount of stretch longitudinally, stays on for several days, and is water resistant.
Kinesiology tape has 3 foundational applications— pain, swelling, and sensory awareness. Let’s talk about these 3 applications.
Have you ever hit your elbow and instinctively began rubbing it to ease the pain? Why do we do this and why does it work? The rubbing provides a non-painful input to the nervous system which can override and inhibit the pain sensation. When applied over areas that are painful, kinesiology tape can act in the same way to provide non-painful stimulation to the nervous system for long periods of time. There is evidence to support the use of kinesiology tape for short term pain relief.1,2,3,4,5 In my personal experience, kinesiology tape has provided relief from a painful shoulder to help me get through a day of work on more than one occasion. Reducing pain is the first (and most crucial) step in the rehabilitation process.
Kinesiology tape can also help with swelling. When an area becomes inflamed or swollen there is decreased space between the muscle, fascia, and skin. This can cause limitations in movement and pain. This often occurs after surgery or an injury and it can linger for a long time. Kinesiology tape microscopically lifts the skin which provides enough relief of pressure to help fluid move out of the area, allow muscles and fascia to glide over one another, and swelling to go down.6 There is evidence to support this effect in humans after knee surgery and in people with lymphedema.7,8 In animals, it is believed that the tape pulls on the fur which in turn pulls on the skin providing the same effects. Anecdotally, there are some pretty compelling images of kinesiology tape used for bruising that demonstrate it’s capacity for decreasing edema.
- Application of kinesiotape for bruising. There is decreased bruising along the strips where tape was applied.
Finally, kinesiology tape can improve sensory awareness, also known as proprioception. Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense where your body is in space. For example, you are able to go up the stairs without having to stare at your feet to make sure they are clearing each step and being placed in the correct spot. Your body is using proprioception to detect where your feet are and place them where they need to be. By providing a non-painful sensory stimulus to the skin, kinesiology tape can improve proprioceptive awareness and body positioning. Imagine the tape providing a constant poking of the muscle saying, “Hey, do your job!” I use this application of kinesiology tape on people for posture very often. I apply tape in an “X” across the upper back with the person positioned in a good upright posture. The pull of the tape becomes a constant reminder every time you slump forward. Used frequently this can have long term affects on posture and subsequently back and neck pain. Another application may be for animals with neurological deficits. Often times, dogs with spinal cord injuries will have difficultly sensing where their paws are resulting in the paws being flipped over when they step. Placing kinesiology tape on the top of the paw can provide sensory input to help the dog sense where their feet are. There is evidence to support the use of kinesiology tape for proprioception in neurological conditions in humans.9,10
As with most rehabilitation tools, the clinical evidence is not black and white. There are plenty of studies that have found contradicting evidence for the use of kinesiology taping. As a clinician, I utilize the evidence in research as well as my own clinical experience to make informed decisions on treatment options. In my personal experience, I have found kinesiology tape to be beneficial for well chosen patients. Like all other treatments, kinesiology tape is just another tool in my toolbox to help my patients to the best of my ability. Used in conjunction with other physical therapy techniques and treatments, kinesiology tape can be really beneficial.
- Thelen, Mark D., James A. Dauber, and Paul D. Stoneman. “The clinical efficacy of kinesio tape for shoulder pain: a randomized, double-blinded, clinical trial.” journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy 38.7 (2008): 389-395.
- GonzáLez-Iglesias, Javier, et al. “Short-term effects of cervical kinesio taping on pain and cervical range of motion in patients with acute whiplash injury: a randomized clinical trial.” Journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy 39.7 (2009): 515-521.
- Osterhues, Diana J. “The use of Kinesio Taping® in the management of traumatic patella dislocation. A case study.” Physiotherapy Theory and Practice 20.4 (2004): 267-270.
- Lim, Edwin Choon Wyn, and Mathew Guo Xiang Tay. “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 Med 49.24 (2015): 1558-1566.
- Homayouni, Kaynoosh, Shima Foruzi, and Fereshte Kalhori. “Effects of kinesiotaping versus non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy for treatment of pes anserinus tendino-bursitis: A randomized comparative clinical trial.” The Physician and sportsmedicine 44.3 (2016): 252-256.
- Kafa, Nihan, et al. “Effects of kinesiologic taping on epidermal–dermal distance, pain, edema and inflammation after experimentally induced soft tissue trauma.” Physiotherapy theory and practice 31.8 (2015): 556-561.
- Donec, V., and A. Kriščiūnas. “The effectiveness of Kinesio Taping after total knee replacement in early postoperative rehabilitation period. A randomized controlled trial.” Eur J Phys Rehabil Med 50.4 (2014): 363-71.
- Tsai, Han-Ju, et al. “Could Kinesio tape replace the bandage in decongestive lymphatic therapy for breast-cancer-related lymphedema? A pilot study.” Supportive care in cancer 17.11 (2009): 1353.\
- Yazici, Gokhan, et al. “Does correcting position and increasing sensorial input of the foot and ankle with Kinesio Taping improve balance in stroke patients?.” NeuroRehabilitation 36.3 (2015): 345-353.
- Kaya Kara, Ozgun, et al. “The effects of Kinesio Taping on body functions and activity in unilateral spastic cerebral palsy: a single‐blind randomized controlled trial.” Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology 57.1 (2015): 81-88.