For sports fans, the sight of your favorite athlete with taped limbs even when they’re not injured may be common on TV, but this brightly colored tape is popping up on recreational athletes as well.
Kinesio tape, or KT, is a special material that is very stretchy. Traditional tape is rigid and is used to keep limbs immobile, but KT was created so you can use it and still have full range of motion. Once the tape is stretched and placed on the skin it recoils a little and creates lift in the deeper tissue underneath. Using KT reportedly provides support to muscles and joints, and reduces pain and swelling.
“In theory, using Kinesio tape creates space underneath the skin to reduce pressure, improve the flow of the lymphatic fluid and control muscle contractions,” said Andrew Verheyden, PT, DPT, of Samaritan Physical Rehabilitation – Lincoln City. “The research around how and why it works isn’t very robust, but it’s a simple thing to try and some people report very good outcomes when using it.”
How Kinesio Tape Is Used
- To Decrease Pain – A review published in the peer-reviewed journal, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, found that KT improved short-term pain in cases such as whiplash, shoulder injury and back pain. Verheyden noted that the best evidence for using KT for pain relief is when it is paired with appropriate exercise and physical therapy.
- To Train Muscles – The stretchiness of the tape can help bring your attention to your muscles when you move. Verheyden said this tactile feedback from the tape can be helpful for people who want to focus on certain muscle groups during exercise. This also can be helpful following surgery when muscles may become weakened and need to be reminded to turn “on.” Once the muscles have been trained, there is no need to continue to use the tape.
- For Stability & Injury Support – Similar to traditional taping, KT can support muscles or joints that have been injured but still allows the freedom to move. Just be sure that you aren’t overworking your body when you are taped, cautioned Verheyden. Pain is a good indicator of whether your body is being pushed too hard and if KT reduces your pain feedback, you may be more likely to overwork yourself and slow the healing process.
When Kinesio Tape May Offer Relief
- Plantar Fasciitis – Tape a strip along the bottom of the foot and a cross strip across the bottom of the arch to support the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot.
- Achilles Tendon Pain – Tape a strip on the back of the leg, from mid-calf down over the heel. Tape a cross strip across the back of the heel and ankle. This will help relieve stress on the tendon.
- Knee Pain – Tape two strips, one on either side of the knee, from the thigh and circling down under the knee. Tape a cross strip under the knee, layered on top of the other tape. Verheyden noted that knee pain typically has a cause, so work with a professional if the pain keeps coming back. You may need help with your gait, shoes or strengthening supportive muscles.
- Shin Splints – Tape from the outer knee across the shin to the inner foot at the base of the big toe. Tape cross strips across the shins where you feel pain to help ease inflammation.
In other applications a physical therapist can teach you the correct way to use and apply KT.
To apply the tape, make sure the area is dry and clean. If the area is hairy, shave it to help the tape stick better and to make removal easier. If your skin is a little oily, use some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball to swab the area. The tape should last three to five days, even when showering. When it’s time to remove it, work a little baby oil into the tape and peel it off gently – don’t rip it from your skin.
“Kinesio tape can be a good supplemental treatment for people who are having trouble with pain or joint support,” said Verheyden. “If you’re interested, talk to your physical therapist to see if it might help you.”