Kinesiology Tape: Help or Hype?
If you’re suffering from an injury, you may benefit from a non-invasive treatment that doesn’t even require popping a pill: kinesiology tape.
“Unlike athletic tape, which limits motion, kinesiology tape is designed to make movement easier by reducing pain,” says Kristin Levin, certified athletic trainer with Henry Ford Health System[.
Developed in the 1970s by a chiropractor named Dr. Kenso Kase, DC, this flexible tape works with the body to promote healing. While Dr. Kase developed his own brand of tape (Kinesio Tape), there are more than 50 different types of tape on the market. Some are designed to enhance performance, and others are designed to control swelling and lymphedema (a collection of fluid trapped in an area due to a lymph system dysfunction)[.
FAQ: Kinesiology Tape
If you’ve watched the Olympic Games, you’ve probably seen athletes wearing kinesiology tape. These brightly-colored strips commonly cover the shoulders, knees and ankles of the world’s top athletes. But can it help amateurs and weekend warriors, too? Here, Levin answers frequently asked questions about this trendy treatment.
Q: What is kinesiology tape?
A: Taping is a decades-old rehabilitation strategy used by physical therapists, chiropractors, personal trainers, athletic trainers and other health professionals to promote healing. One of the most popular tapes on the market is Kinesio Tape, a non-latex, cotton tape that stretches with your body. It’s breathable, water-resistant and lasts on your skin for three to five days — even as you shower, ice injuries and engage in regular activities.
Q: How does it work?
A: Tape supports the body’s natural healing process by microscopically lifting layers of skin[. This microscopic lifting stabilizes muscles and tissues, helps your lymph system drain excess fluid and reduce swelling. But unlike traditional athletic tape, it doesn’t restrict mobility. Depending how you apply the tape, it can even enhance your range of motion. The tape serves as a sort of tactile cue for the muscles to fire. In fact, many athletes rely on tape to support injured muscles and protect the joints.
Q: What is it used for?
A: Tape can be used for almost any ailment from headaches to low back pain. You can even use it to draw out a splinter. But most people use tape to reduce pain and enhance performance. The shape, direction and amount of stretch placed on the tape — along with the duration of time it sits on the skin — combine to achieve the desired goal. Used correctly, tape can also help re-educate the neuromuscular system.
Common goals of tape:
- Improved range of motion
- Reduced pain and swelling
- Support and stability
- Scar tissue management
Q: Can you feel it?
A: Most people who wear kinesiology tape can’t feel it after the initial application. The tape is elastic, so it moves with your body. In that sense, it feels much different than athletic tape, which often has the sensation of pulling your body in a certain way.
Q: Who should NOT use kinesiology tape?
A: In general, tape is safe to use for almost anyone. However, if you have cancer, an open wound or an active infection, you should avoid tape until those issues resolve. Tape works with your lymphatic system and increases circulation, so it could make some of those conditions worse.
Q: Are there any risks or drawbacks to using kinesiology tape?
A: If you pull too hard on the tape – and make it too tight – you can blister and tear your skin. That’s why it’s important to work with a trained professional rather than apply the tape on your own. (See below for application tips). The direction and the amount of stretch makes a huge difference.
Tips for Taping Success
Kinesiology tape is a proven therapy that produces physiological effects on the neuromuscular, lymphatic and circulatory systems. It can be used on its own or in conjunction with other treatment modalities.
Unfortunately, applying therapeutic tape isn’t foolproof. And in some cases, even correct application of tape may not resolve your problem. Here are four tips to increase your odds of taping success:
- Get evaluated: Before you or a health professional applies tape, it’s important to get a complete evaluation, including muscle testing, range of motion and gait testing. In some cases, your doctor may need to treat an underlying condition before you can consider tape therapy.
- Work with a professional: Find someone who holds a certification in the type of tape you’d like to use. Athletic trainers, physical therapists, chiropractors and even massage therapists may be qualified to apply kinesiology tape.
- Stay out of the heat: Kinesiology tape is heat-activated, but it’s also water-resistant. So, while a hot tub soak or hot shower won’t affect the tape, dry heat can change the chemical properties of the tape, making it sticky and hard to remove. You can still wear it outside in the summertime without worry. Just be aware that too much heat may be problematic.
- Don’t rely on the tape: Tape is meant to act as a sort of bridge to help you get past an issue or concern. It’s not meant to be a lifelong treatment.
If you’re suffering from an injury, pain or swelling from lymphedema, ask your doctor or physical therapist if kinesiology tape is appropriate for you.
To find a doctor or physical therapist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Kristin Levin is a certified athletic trainer at Henry Ford Medical Center – Ford Road in Dearborn.