The use of Kinesio® Tape or as some say “K-tape”, has become an adjunct to other forms of treatment. It can be used to support chiropractic adjustments and exercises long after the in-office treatment. But how does this tape work? And why is it any different from other forms of taping?
What is Kinesiology tape?
Elastic therapeutic tape that has become popular in use for rehabilitation and healing with a design to move with the body, not limiting your movement.(1) K-tape is breathable and depending on the brand, comes in a variety of colors and different options for skin sensitivity and form of activity.
Where did it start?
K-tape has been around since the 1970’s and was created in Japan by a chiropractor by the name of Dr. Kenzo Kase. Dr. Kase is the founder of Kinesio® Taping Method and designed his tape to facilitate healing and as a positive adjunct to his treatments for when patients left his clinic.
As the use of this tape became more popular in the community, Dr. Kase refined his methods and eventually start teaching how to apply the tape and why it works.(2) Since then, several brands of K-tape have surfaced. Some of the more popular brands that people may be familiar with are Kinesio Tape, KT Tape, and RockTape. These brands differ in adhesive patterns, price, and ability to stretch. Determining which tape brand you use comes down to personal preference. Personally, I use RockTape, due to having better luck with the adhesive staying longer on the skin (personal preference).
How did it become popular?
Supportive taping has been popular for a long time now, but the style of K-tape has only recently been discovered by the public. Kinesio® Tape made its first appearance in sports by the late 1980’s and steadily gained popularity within the sports realm. It wasn’t until 2008 during the Beijing Olympics that public attention was brought to the tape. On this world stage, the tape was made most famous by beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings as her and Misty May-Treanor won gold with the tape applied to Walsh’s shoulder during the majority of games. Since then, the tape has been used by more medical professionals and now sold in stores for people to use on their own. Today it is still a popular tool used to support athletes and from time-to-time, you will see professional athletes subtly wearing it during their games. Unknown to most, taping has even become applicable for the use in animals (i.e. Equine and canines).
But what is it doing?
Pain relief: Pain alleviation is achieved by the tapes ability to act on receptors found in the skin. This effect alters the signal to the brain and results in modulation of pain sensation.(1)
Decreased inflammation: Facilitation of lymphatic drainage occurs due to the adhesive design creating a convoluted pattern, resulting in microscopic separation of the skin and fascia. This decompression forms space for improved clearance of inflammatory waste.
Muscular awareness: Similarly, to pain relief, application of tape provides a different feedback from local receptors in the skin, which in turn, increases awareness of possible hypotonic or neurologically weakened muscles.(3) Basically, you feel the tape, so now you are aware of the tissue surrounding it.
What does the evidence and what does it say?
There are many publications on the use of K-tape, either by itself or as an adjunct to other treatment modalities. The issue is that there is insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the benefits. Many of the publications are targeted towards specific conditions and when further broken down, result in low-quality of evidence in their conclusions. More research is clearly needed to make sense of exactly what the tape should be used for. On the positive sides of things, a common conclusion that several studies find is that healing may not be objectively improved, but decreases in pain scores and increased function are often a beneficial result in participants using K-tape. Significance in these values are always at question but in most scenarios, a little improvement in pain and function is all you need to jump start your recovery.
What are the side effects?
There are very little side effects associated with taping. These are usually related to those with skin sensitivities or generally thin skin (i.e. elderly). However, most tapes are latex free and even have options for sensitive skin. But even with these options, use of tape may not be viable for everyone and should be used with caution during the first application.
What is the gist?
K-tape application with the use of other treatment has shown to be beneficial in pain relief and improved function. Clinically, this means you shouldn’t use tape as your sole method of treatment and if results aren’t showing up in a reasonable amount of time, it may be time to discontinue taping or at least find a different way to target the issue.
Personally, I use these tapes on myself and in my clinic to improve awareness and assist the movements that I ask patients to perform. Plus, who doesn’t want to feel like a professional athlete while they exercise?
Written by Dr. Mason McCloskey