Kinesio Tape, taping, KT Tape, RockTape. There’s a bunch of names for this particular modality but ultimately what we’re talking about is putting pliable tape-like material over an area of pain and inflammation. You’ve probably seen people walking around with colored kinesio tape before, especially athletes. But does it work?
Theoretically, kinesio tape is designed to accomplish three things: Increase fluid exchange, dampen pain and cue better biomechanics. The idea is that by applying kinesio tape to an area we are going to help the patient get out of pain and recover faster.
Increase fluid exchange:
Our bodies are built in layers, this is especially true when we’re talking about the skin. Starting at the outermost layer we have the skin that we can see, what is referred to as the epidermis. Going deeper we have the dermis, this is the layer containing things like; capillaries, sweet glands and hair bulbs. Deeper yet, we have the hypodermis containing; arteries, veins and connective tissues. As we continue deeper we have our subcutaneous fat, this helps insulate the body as well as muscle tissue and bone Throughout each of these layers various fluids such as blood and lymph are exchanged.
When we suffer an injury, this exchange of fluids is interrupted. This can result in an accumulation of fluids causing swelling, inflammation and pain. By applying kinesio tape to an inflamed area or muscle spasm, we can actually encourage better fluid exchange by mobilizing the various layers of tissue. The idea is that the tape applies pressure on the outermost surface where the adhesive connects with the skin. When the body moves, the tape pulls on the skin which in turn pulls on the underlying layers. This mobilization helps to separate the various layers creating more room for the fluids to move around thus reducing inflammation, swelling and pain.
The physical act of mobilizing the skin doesn’t just create the opportunity for better fluid exchange, it also helps to dampen the patient’s perception of pain. Here’s how it works: there are nerves in your body that detect pain (nociceptors) as well as nerves that detect movement (mechanoreceptors). When each nerve is stimulated, the respective sensation is experienced by the brain. BUT, our brains don’t do a great job when it comes to experiencing movement and pain at the same time. These two sensations work as a sort of opposite to one another. The more pain we feel, the less we are able to experience movement sensations. Adversely, the more we move a body part, the less pain we feel. Think of it like how you might rub your arm after banging it into a wall. As the kinesio tape mobilizes the various layers of tissue it also stimulates the mechanoreceptors within those layers.
Lastly, kinesio tape is designed to “cue” better biomechanics. What this means is that the tape is applied in such a way that it encourages better movement and posture. Let’s use the shoulder as an example. A lot of people exhibit forward rounded shoulders that often result in upper back pain. Kinesio tape can be applied so that the tape gently pulls the shoulder blades towards each other. The benefit here is that the patient’s brain is constantly receiving stimulation encouraging the patient to pull their shoulders back.
Does it work?
Unfortunately, the research is split here. Similar to my blog on PRP injections, kinesio tape is a somewhat new modality of care. Or maybe it’s more appropriate to say that it is a modality of care without as much long term research to back it up. However you look at it, you can find studies that found minimal benefit from taping as well as studies that found significant benefit.
Fortunately, kinesio tape is infinitely cheaper than a PRP injection. You can buy an entire roll of kinesio tape for less than $30 and that will last you a while! Because of its affordability and the fact that some patients do experience significant benefits from taping, I often use kinesio tape during treatment. The way we should look at kinesio tape is that it’s an inexpensive modality that can be added to care and then evaluated for its potential benefits. If taping helps the patient, then keep doing it. If it doesn’t help, stop using it. Each patient is likely to experience different levels of benefit from taping.
Have you ever been taped? Where were you taped? For how long? Comment below and let me know your experience with kinesio tape!