Elastic Therapeutic Tape: Does It Work?
No doubt you’ve seen athletes—both amateurs and professionals—with an arm, leg, shoulder, knee, ankle or any combination thereof taped up in a strange sort of way—crisscrossed, V-shaped, Y-shaped, overlapped in all sorts of ways and configurations but never just wrapped in circles like the old-school white athletic tape.
Athletes from all sports use elastic therapeutic tape—from volleyball players to weight lifters to runners to swimmers—and everyone in between. There is even a version of Kinesio Tape for horses!
History of elastic therapeutic tape
Elastic therapeutic tape is the generic name for a type of stretchy tape in use since the 1970s. It has a number of different brand names—Kinesio Tape and KT Tape are two of the most popular.
Kinesio Tape is the product’s original brand, developed by chiropractor Kenzo Kase in 1979. He was interested in developing a method to expedite the body’s natural healing mechanisms and extend the benefits of his treatments even after patients left his office.
After inventing the tape, Dr. Kase established the Kinesio Taping Method the following year. Through his Kinesio Taping Instructor Program and Kinesio Taping Seminars as well as his founding of the Kinesio Taping Association International and the Society of Kinesio Taping Therapy, Dr. Kase has promoted the product and the method for its use far and wide.
What is an elastic therapeutic tape?
The main difference between elastic therapeutic tape and the regular athletic tape is the use of elastic in its production, which allows it to stretch lengthwise. Most elastic therapeutic tape is made from cotton fibers with elastic woven into it. Some tapes are made from synthetic fibers, which make them more durable than the 100% cotton versions.
All tapes are hypoallergenic, latex-free, water-resistant and made with a special adhesive to enable the tape to be worn for multiple days through sweating and showering. Because the tape is stretchy and flexible, it does not limit the range of motion.
The tape is available in a variety of options and colors as a continuous roll, pre-cut strips and even as a patch.
What does elastic therapeutic tape actually do?
Dr. Kase asserts that using the tape can support muscles—improve their ability to contract, reduce muscle fatigue and pain and protect muscles from spasms and over-extension and –contraction.
The tape also is purported to benefit the circulatory and lymphatic systems by lifting the skin microscopically to allow better circulation which can reduce inflammation and chemical coagulation in the muscle tissue.
In keeping with Dr. Kase’s background in chiropractics, he developed the tape to stimulate the body’s own healing and pain management mechanisms, which is one of the pillars of chiropractic medicine.
And lastly, the tape is said to benefit joints by improving range of motion and misalignment, which can sometimes be the result of tight muscles.
What can be treated and how to do it
Kinesio tape is touted for use on everything from sprained ankles, runner’s knee, shoulder impingements and rotator cuff injuries to contusions, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even headaches.
Many orthopedists, sports medicine doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, and athletic trainers have been instructed in the use of and methods for Kinesio Taping. If you don’t have access to one of them on a daily basis, there are instructions for how to tape more common injuries included with the tape. There also are online instructions on the manufacturers’ websites as well as video tutorials that can be found on platforms such as YouTube.
Two important tricks when applying Kinesio tape are to clean off the area you are planning to tape with a bit of rubbing alcohol to eliminate any lotions or oils that may cause the tape not to stick as well. And also, after applying the tape, rub over it with your fingers, especially on the ends to better activate the adhesive, which also will help it stay on longer.
But does it work?
So now we know what the tape is supposed to do, the question is, does it actually work? By the sheer number of athletes who use it, particularly those elite and high-profile athletes, you probably assume that the answer is yes. But let’s see what the science says.
According to the authors of “A systematic review of the effectiveness of Kinesio taping for musculoskeletal injury,” published in the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine, the findings showed that there were no long-term benefits of using Kinesio tape but that there were short-term gains as it was reported to decrease pain levels and increase range of motion. This was a review of only six studies, however.
A similar meta-analysis of 10 studies, “Kinesio taping in treatment and prevention of sports injuries: a meta-analysis of the evidence for its effectiveness,” published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, came to roughly the same conclusion. The authors noted that Kinesio tape may offer a small benefit in improving strength and range of motion in certain injuries.
Both groups of researchers noted that further studies are warranted to determine whether the use of Kinesio taping offers any long-term benefit in the prevention and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries.
It seems that the bulk of the evidence supporting the use of Kinesio tape is anecdotal, which shouldn’t necessarily be discounted.
And of course, the “placebo effect” also may be at work here. The use of the tape on an injury may offer users extra mental support and confidence when going through the recovery and rehabilitation process and then later when they start exercising again.
I used it myself when returning to running after a torn meniscus which I rehabbed with biking and cross-training rather than surgery. I’m not sure that it helped physically—I still had some pain and discomfort—but taping did give me the sense of doing something proactive to help my recovery as well as added support—whether real or imagined. To me, that was worth the cost of a couple of rolls of Kinesio tape.
Everyone who has had and injury and gone to physical therepy or chiropractor has gotten the elastic therapeutic tape. But does it really work?