Kinesiology Tape: An Overview

By now, most people have seen athletes wearing brightly colored tape, stretchy tape at different sporting events, from golf events, to baseball games, to Olympic Events. There are several different brands on the market today offering the “best” in athletic tape. Rocktape, K-tape, KT tape, etc etc. Our office uses the tape on a daily basis to help with an array of different musculoskeletal issues. I also get asked a lot of different questions about the tape. So lets dive into what it’s all about, how it works, and why we use it.

Lets start off with why someone would need taped in the first place. We utilize tape almost primarily for musculoskeletal pain symptoms after they have been diagnosed, and after other forms of treatment. Myofascial pain syndrome, defined as muscle pain due to myofascial trigger points (MTrPs) have been considered to be related to poor postures, neuromusculoskeletal disorders, or systemic diseases. Chronic repetitive muscle strain, bursitis, arthritis, or disc lesions can also induce MTrP’s. Clinically, patients with myofascial pain complain about local pain in the muscle, often with referred pain. If the associated pathologic reasons are not well treated, the pain often recurs later.

(Hong c.-z. myofacial pain therapy. Journal of musculoskeletal pain. 2004; 12(3-4) 37-34. Dol: 10.1300/J094v12n03_06.)

The concept of the tape itself developed from the traditional forms of athletic taping most people are familiar with. Traditional athletic taping, utilizing white, thick, sticky tape has been around since 1882. By restricting range of motion, and stabilizing joints and muscles, the tape can prevent secondary injury effectively, reduce edema; or swelling, pain, and immobilize the treatment area.

The popular “KT” method was developed from 1973-1979 by Dr. Kenzo Kase, with the goal of supporting musculoskeletal structures without over-immobilization and the side effects associated with it. Kase commercially produced the tape in 1982 with elastic, lightweight, and ventilation characteristics. The purpose behind the tape was edema control, soft tissue support, joint protection, and relieving the heat produced from inflammation. Advanced purposes included continuing the effect of manual therapy from clinic to home care, and activities of daily living.

As proposed, the function of the tape serves to elevate the space under the skin and soft tissue, so that the space for movement can be enlarged, the circulation of blood and lymph fluid can be facilitated, and the healing rate of tissue and can be increased. (Skirven T.M., Osterman A.L., Fedorcyk J.M., Amadio P.C. Rehabilitation of the Hand and Upper Extremity 6th. 2011. Elastic taping; pp. 1529-1538)

One theory as to the proposed mechanism of kinesiology tape is that basic principal for prescription of kinesiology tape for myofascial pain syndromes focuses on the patterns of facilitation and inhibition. When the tape is applied from muscle origin to insertion, it can provide the effect of facilitation to the muscle contraction. On the other hand, when taping from insertion to origin, inhibition and relaxation of the muscle spasms can be the effect, which is most useful for myofascial pain and muscle spasm.

The above is one of the proposed mechanisms by which the tape works, amongst others.

The greater question, is does it work, and is it effective?

Wang and colleagues investigated the effect of the KT method for the relief of musculoskeletal pain. Taping with the insertion to origin technique was performed on the upper trapezius muscle and statistically significant pain relief was found immediately after the treatment. They considered the effects due to taut band stretching and stimulation of skin receptors. No improvement was reported by the patients in the control group. The improvement in pain symptoms remained statistically significant after 24 hours. (Wang Y.-H., Chen S.-M., Chen J.-T., Yan W.-C., Kuan T.-S, Hong C.-Z, The effect of taping therapy on patients with Myofascial pain syndrome: a pilot study. Taiwan Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2008; 36 (3): 145-150)

Kaya et al. in a separate study applied the KT method with home exercise programs on patients who suffered from shoulder pain due to diagnosed impingement syndrome. The tapes were applied with insertion to origin technique over the supraspinatus, teres minor, and deltoid muscles. Significant improvement in pain and disability was noted in the taping group one to two weeks later. In this group, pain with movement was significantly reduced in intergroup comparison. Night pain, pain with movement, muscle strength, and pain free abduction movement of the shoulder at 12 days duration was noted as significantly improved.

Furthermore, a separate study in the Pomeranian Journal of Life Sciences determined taping methods elicited increased range of motion measurements in patients with low back pain.

Other studies however suggest that the effects of kinesiology tape are best observed in conjunction with other modalities.

Another proposed mechanism is that the tape increases proprioception and position sense in the taped joints. This proposal implies injury prevention properties of the tape itself.

Other studies have refuted the benefits of the tape.

A study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine determined no difference between taped patients and the control group.

Research on the subject remains overall positive in small studies. Several of these studies have evaluated the tapes effectiveness in combination with other modalities, leaving questions as to the direct effectiveness of the tape alone.

As a practitioner, one must evaluate the risk reward of any treatment option for any patient with musculoskeletal pain symptoms. Given the lack of side effects associated with kinesiology taping, and the general overview of literature, taping methods are utilized daily in our office. While the research may not back the precise method or mechanism of taping, taping has been shown to possibly aid in providing increased range of motion and decreased pain symptoms in patients with myofascial pain symptoms. Taping is simply another tool in the toolbox of manual medicine. I’m personally a fan of modalities that patients can utilize at home safely and effectively.

Given the above information, it is safe to say that taping, while having been around for a long while, will continue to evolve and be utilized in practice for patients with musculoskeletal pain symptoms.