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Today, there are more than 50 brands of kinesiology tape on the market, but the original product, Kinesio tape or Kinesio Tex Tape, was developed in the late 1970s by Dr. Kenzo Kase, a Japanese chiropractor who wanted a tape that provided support but didn’t limit movement the way traditional athletic tapes do.
If you’ve watched a volleyball game or competitive bicycle race, you’ve probably seen it: strips of colorful tape splayed in patterns across shoulders, knees, backs, and abs. That’s kinesiology tape: a therapeutic tape that’s applied strategically to the body to provide support, lessen pain, reduce swelling, and improve performance.
Enthusiasts report success achieving these aims, but so far, there needs to be more research to say with certainty what taping can and cannot do.
Here’s what we know about how physical and sports therapists use it, its benefits, tips and what to know.
Kinesiology tape is really stretchy.
Kase created Kinesio tape with a proprietary blend of cotton and nylon. It’s designed to mimic the skin’s elasticity so you can use your full range of motion. The tape’s medical-grade adhesive is also water-resistant and strong enough to stay on for three to five days, even while you work out or take showers.
When the tape is applied to your body, it recoils slightly, gently lifting your skin. It is believed that this helps to create a microscopic space between your skin and the tissues underneath it.
Creates space in joints
May change signals on pain pathways
Some physical therapists think the tape changes the information your sensory nervous system is sending about pain and compression in your body.
Dr. Megann Schooley, board-certified clinical specialist in sports physical therapy and certified strength and conditioning specialist, explains it this way:
“All of your tissues — skin, connective tissue, fascia, muscles — contain sensory receptors that feel pain, temperature, and touch. Those receptors all contribute to proprioception—your brain’s sense of where your body is and what it’s doing. Kinesiology taping creates a lift that unloads the underlying tissues. Decompressing those tissues can change the signals going to the brain. When the brain receives a different signal, it’s going to respond differently,” Schooley says.
Trigger points are a good example. Physical therapists have used kinesiology tape to lift the skin over these tense, knotted muscles. When the area is decompressed, pain receptors send a new signal to the brain, and tension in the trigger point decreases.
A 2015 study showed that trigger point pain was reduced and flexibility increased for people when kinesiology tape and manual pressure were used together.
May improve circulation of blood and fluids
If you’ve been injured, kinesiology tape might help improve circulation and reduce swelling in the area where you’re hurt.
A 2017 study showed that kinesiology taping can improve blood flow in the skin. It may also improve circulation of lymphatic fluids. Lymphatic fluid is mostly water, but it also contains proteins, bacteria, and other chemicals. The lymphatic system is the way your body regulates swelling and fluid buildup.
The theory is that when kinesiology tape is applied, it creates extra subcutaneous space, which changes the pressure gradient in the area underneath your skin. That change in pressure enhances the flow of lymphatic fluid.
Changing the flow of lymphatic fluid could help bruises heal faster. Although there are few studies to confirm this effect, anecdotally some people report that when they’ve removed tape from bruised body parts, the areas under the tape were a different color than the un-taped areas.
Physical therapists sometimes use kinesiology taping as one part of an overall treatment plan for people who’ve been injured. The American Physical Therapy Associationreports that kinesiology taping is most effective when it’s used in conjunction with other treatments like manual therapy.
“We use kinesiology taping to mitigate pain and swelling,” Schooley says, “but it’s always used as an adjunct to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Supporting weak zones
Kinesiology tape is also used to add extra support to muscles or joints that need it. If you have patellofemoral stress syndrome, IT band friction syndrome, or Achilles tendonitis, kinesiology taping might help you.
Unlike white medical or athletic tape, kinesiology tape lets you move normally. In fact, some studies show that it can enhance movement and endurance. Studies on athletes have shown that when kinesiology tape is used on fatigued muscles, performance improves.
Kinesiology tape can help re-train muscles that have lost function or that have gotten used to an unhealthy way of working.
Physical therapists think this may be because having the strange sensation of tape on your skin can make you more aware of how you’re standing or moving.
Some athletes use kinesiology taping to help them achieve peak performance and protect against injury when they’re competing in special events.
“A lot of runners use this tape every time they run a marathon,” Schooley says. “We sometimes place the tape along the glute as a way of ‘waking up’ the muscle and reminding it to keep working.”
Although you should never use kinesiology tape on an open wound, there is some scientific evidence to suggest that kinesiology tape can improve the long-term appearance of scars after surgery or injury. This is definitely a treatment you should discuss with a doctor first.
The answer for some people is: yes. But we need more research — what exists currently is inconsistent. Some studies indicate no difference in outcomes between kinesiology tape and placebos or “sham taping.”
Some studies show minimal or moderate gains.
Many studies indicate that kinesiology taping is most effective when used together with conventional treatment methods.
There are some circumstances in which kinesiology tape should not be used. They include the following.
- Open wounds. Using tape over a wound could lead to infection or skin damage.
- Deep vein thrombosis. Increasing fluid flow could cause a blood clot to dislodge, which might be fatal.
- Active cancer. Increasing blood supply to a cancerous growth could be dangerous.
- Lymph node removal. Increasing fluid where a node is missing could cause swelling.
- Diabetes. If you have reduced sensation in some areas, you might not notice a reaction to the tape.
- Allergy. If your skin is sensitive to adhesives, you could trigger a strong reaction.
- Fragile skin. If your skin is prone to tearing, you should avoid placing tape on it.
You should always consult with a physical therapist who is trained in the proper application of kinesiology tape before you try to put it on yourself.
A physical therapist will show you how to apply the tape in the pattern that will help your specific problem. Tape can be applied in an X, Y, I, or fan pattern, depending on your goals. You may also need both stabilization and decompression strips.
Your physical therapist can watch you practice applying and removing the tape before you try it at home.
“Taping is not a permanent solution,” Schooley says. “You want to build your strength and skill, because correcting the root problem is key.”
To apply the tape, remember these steps:
- Clean and dry the area first. Lotions and oils can prevent the tape from sticking.
- Trim excess hair. Fine hair shouldn’t be a problem, but dense hair could keep the tape from getting a good grip on your skin.
- For most treatments, you’ll start by tearing the backing paper in the center.
- Cut rounded corners at the ends of each strip if they don’t already have them. The rounded corners are less likely to get snagged against clothing; and helps to keep the tape on longer.
- When you apply the first tab to anchor the strip, let the end recoil slightly after you take off the backing paper. You don’t want any stretch in the last two inches at either end, because those tabs are just to hold the tape in place. If you stretch the ends, the tape will pull your skin, which could cause irritation or make the tape detach sooner.
- Keep your fingers on the packing paper to hold the tape. Touching the adhesive part will make it less sticky.
- Your therapist can let you know how much stretch to use in the treatment area. To get a 75 percent stretch, extend the tape as far as it will go and then release it about a quarter of its length.
- When you stretch the tape, use the whole length of your thumb across the tape to get an even stretch.
- After you apply the tape, rub the strip vigorously for several seconds. Heat activates the glue. Full adhesion usually takes around 20 minutes.
If you’re wearing the tape longer than a few days, it may begin loosening on its own. Here are some tips for getting the tape off without hurting your skin.
- Apply some oil (like baby oil or olive oil) or lotion on top of the tape to loosen the strip.
- Remove it slowly. Don’t yank. Don’t pull up.
- After nudging up one end of the strip, press down on your skin to separate it from the tape.
- Pull the tape back against itself, rather than straight up away from you. Compress your skin gently while pulling the tape back in the direction of the end tab.
- Walk your fingers along your skin as you go.
- If your skin is irritated or damaged, don’t reapply tape. Consider talking talk to your physical therapist or doctor.
Will the tape harm my skin?
The adhesive on major brands is latex-free and hypoallergenic, so it shouldn’t cause an allergic reaction if it’s applied properly and if you don’t have sensitivities. It’s probably a good idea to apply a test strip first, just to be on the safe side.
Although cost varies depending on the elasticity and durability of the brand, a good roll could cost $25 to $40.
Schooley advises buying in bulk and sharing with other folks in your running club or gym. You can also increase your wear-time by sticking the ends to your skin instead of another piece of tape.
“I always tell patients to tape with purpose,” she says. “Yes, it looks cool. But ultimately, you’re working toward not needing the tape.”
Although the effectiveness of kinesiology taping is not well researched, it may provide support, increase circulation, reduce pain, and improve the way your joints and muscles work.
Before using it, you should talk to a physical therapist, because it’s most useful when combined with other treatment methods.