Kinesio tape - does the evidence stick?
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K-tape/Kinesiotape is made with cotton fiber, is thin, conforms to the body, is stretchable to over double its length, and can be worn for 3-5 days for therapeutic benefit.
Many elite-level athletes have been seen wearing some form of kinesiotape for competition.
Andy Murray wearing KT tape
James Harden wearing KT tape
Part of a family
K-tape is one of the many brands of cotton-fiber, stretchable tapes out there on the market.
Since it’s inception in the 1970s, other brands have emerged including:
Perform Tex tape
Although the many brands of tape may boast ‘tighter weaves’, ‘stronger adhesive’, ‘pre-cut’, or ‘twin-groove adhesive patterns’, all propose the same therapeutic benefits, and are extremely similar in design.
How does it work?
The theory is that when applied on stretch, Kinesiotape can lift the skin away from the muscle and effectively creates space between the layers of fascia, in which the blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and nerves can be found. By lifting the skin away from the muscle, Kinesiotape changes the pressure differential underneath the skin to allow for improved perfusion of the area with ground substance, which includes the water and proteins responsible for the lubrication and nutrition of the connective tissue cells.
In areas of dysfunction due to myofascial adhesions, the layers become stuck together, and muscles can become facilitated (hypertonic/contracted) or inhibited (hypotonic/’offline’). When Kinesiotape is applied to the skin, it decompresses the area of dysfunction, improves the influx of ground substance, and can benefit people in a number of ways:
Proposed benefits of K-tape:
Improved circulation and lymphatic drainage
Improved proprioception (sense of the body’s position and movement in space)
Muscle strength and activity (increase/decrease in muscle tone)
Reduced muscle fatigue and muscle soreness
What the Research Shows:
Does K-tape help with…
Evidence is mixed, but several lower quality studies suggest k-tape may help reduce pain
K-tape may be used as an adjunct to physiotherapy treatment. It may feel good, but will not get to the root of the problem. The theory is, by activating sensory fibers in the skin, it can change the sensory input from that area, and impede the pain signal. It may be more useful with acute pain.
…Proprioception (sensation of your body in space)? Maybe.
Very few studies of good quality exist
One quality study found K-tape does not improve joint position sense at the ankle.
Several lower quality studies suggest that K-tape may improve static balance, particularly in individuals with previous ankle injuries.
K-tape can serve as a reminder for postural awareness and can bring attention to an area of the body, especially if the patient is aware of the intention of the tape. It can be very individual-specific.
e.g. taping as a reminder to maintain optimal scapular posture
…Edema & swelling? Yes & No.
One study found K-tape may help to reduce edema when accompanied by standard lymphatic drainage vs. standard lymphatic drainage alone
In another study, K-tape did not help with breast cancer related lymphedema
I have personally seen k-tape help to reduce hematomas, and there are compelling images and accounts of K-tape reducing swelling and edema. This isn’t great evidence, but I believe it is enough to give it a try.
High-quality evidence indicates K-tape does not improve muscle strength regardless of application technique (facilitation/inhibition)
My take: Many studies have looked into this, and the evidence is conclusive. K-tape does not improve strength.
…Muscle fatigue and Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness? No.
The research on this is minimal. So far, k-tape is considered to have no effect on muscle fatigue or delayed onset muscle soreness.
Bassett, K.T., Lingman, S.A. & Ellis, R.F. (2010). The use and treatment efficacy of kinaesthetic taping for musculoskeletal conditions: a systematic review. New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy, 38(2), 56-62.
Cai, I.P.H. Au, W An, R.T.H. Cheung et al.. (2015). Facilitatory and inhibitory effects of Kinesio tape: Fact or fad?. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.
Csapoa, R & Alegrec, L.M. (2015). Effects of Kinesio® taping on skeletal muscle strength—A meta-analysis of current evidence. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (18), 450-456.
Esther De Ru. (2014). Review of Kinesio Taping ignored other models and techniques. Journal of Physiotherapy, 60, 176-177.
Kalron, A & Barsela, S. (2013). A systematic review of the effectiveness of Kinesio Taping® - Fact or fashion? European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation and Medicine, 49(5), 699-709.
Morris et al.. (2013). The clinical effects of Kinesio® Tex taping: A systematic review. Physiothreapy theory and practice, 29(4), 259-270.
Lim, E.C.W & Tay, M.G.X. (2015). Kinesio taping in musculoskeletal pain and disability that lasts for more than 4 weeks: is it time to peel off the tape and throw it out with the sweat? A systematic review with meta-analysis focused on pain and also methods of tape application. British Journal of Sports Medicine (10), 1-10.
Parreiraa et al.. (2014). Current evidence does not support the use of Kinesio Taping in clinical practice: a systematic review. Journal of Physiotherapy, 60(1), 31-39.
Saltychev et al.. (2014). Comment on “A systematic review of the effectiveness of Kinesio Taping - fact or fashion?” by Kalron A and Bar-Sela S Eur J Phys Rehabil Med 2013; 49(5):699-709. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL AND REHABILITATION MEDICINE.
Stedge, H.L, Kroskie, R.M & Docherty, C.L. (2012). Kinesio Taping and the Circulation and Endurance Ratio of the Gastrocnemius Muscle. Journal of Athletic Training, 47(6),635-642.
Williams et al.. (2012). Kinesio Taping in Treatment and Prevention of Sports Injuries. Sports Med, 42(2), 153-164.
Wilson, B & Bialocerkowski, A. (2015). The Effects of Kinesiotape Applied to the Lateral Aspect of the Ankle: Relevance to Ankle Sprains – A Systematic Review. Public Library of Science: One, 10(6), 1-21.
Andy Murray image courtesy of Jag Gundu/Cynthia Lum: http://fortune.com/2014/08/30/from-the-u-s-open-to-a-target-near-you-the-business-behind-sports-tape/
James Harden image courtesy of Gustavo Rolim: http://www.gmktesportivo.com.br/james-harden-troca-nike-por-adidas-num-contrato-de-200-milhoes-de-dolares/