What Exactly Is the Deal with Kinesiology Tape and Running?
After adorning our TV screens during the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, brightly taped limbs and torsos have become a common sight at races and sporting events across the world. And while some swear by the efficiency of kinesiology tape in the treatment of pain and injury, others are a bit more skeptical. Attributing its purported impact to nothing but a placebo effect, some believe that its benefits are purely psychological.
So what exactly is the deal with kinesiology tape and running? Should it be an integral part of your running arsenal? Will it significantly speed up recovery or even prevent injury? Or can you do without it? Let’s have a look at what the scientists have to say.
What is Kinesiology Tape?
Dr Kenzo Kase, Japanese chiropractor and acupuncturist, developed Kinesio tape in the mid-1970s. Dr Kase found the use of traditional white sports tape to be limiting, and felt the need for a tape that could facilitate the body’s natural healing processes without restricting its natural range of motion.
Kinesiology tape is basically a brightly colored, thin, elastic cotton strip with a heat-activated acrylic adhesive. It can stretch up to 140% of its original length, and creates a pulling force on the skin after being applied. The latex-free cotton fibers allow for a quick drying time, thereby providing a wear time of up to five days.
The Purpose of Kinesiology Tape
Kinesiology taping is a rehabilitative taping technique that was designed to microscopically lift the skin in order to improve blood and lymph flow. This is believed to speed healing, while the tape is also claimed to reduce pain and improve mobility in injured areas. Some believe that kinesiology tape’s ability to stretch furthermore assists in stabilizing joints and relaxing overused muscles.
And when it comes to improving performance and preventing injury, some claim that the use of kinesiology tape can help through increased proprioception, or the sense of where your limbs are positioned in space.
The Science Behind Kinesiology Tape
And while anecdotal reports supporting the effectiveness of kinesiology tape abound, one question remains: Does science back these claims? For now the answer appears to be an underwhelming “to a very small extent”.
In a 2012 study by a team from New Zealand, scientific literature on the effectiveness of kinesiology tape was reviewed. The team found only ten well-designed studies on the subject at the time, and concluded that the use of kinesiology tape may have a small positive effect on both strength and active range of motion in an injured area. They did, however, also find that kinesiology taping isn’t effective in improving other musculo-skeletal outcomes. This includes pain, muscle activity and ankle proprioception.
Also in 2012, researchers from Cedarville University in Ohio set out to determine whether kinesiology tape really does improve blood flow to muscles, as is widely claimed. They looked at 61 young and healthy subjects, and found that both calf muscle blood flow and calf muscle circumference were no different between the taped-up and control groups. It should, however, be kept in mind that study participants had no reported calf injuries. It is widely speculated that results might have been different if injured participants were used. Secondly, measurements were taken while participants were at rest. Once again the outcome might have been different had measurements been taken during or after exercise.
More recently, scientists reviewed twelve trials involving 495 participants for an article in the Journal of Physiotherapy in 2014. Participants included individuals with shoulder pain, knee pain, chronic lower back pain, neck pain, plantar fasciitis and multiple musculoskeletal conditions. The aim of the review was to compare kinesiology taping to sham taping, no treatment, exercises, manual therapy and conventional physiotherapy. The study concluded that, overall, kinesiology taping did not give a better outcome than sham taping or any of the other treatment options used. In instances where it did give a better result, it was insignificantly small, or the trials were of a low quality.
But there’s more. In 2015 Poon et al. divided 30 blindfolded, healthy study participants into three different taping groups in order to determine the effect of taping on muscle performance. These taping groups included facilitative kinesiology taping, sham kinesiology taping and no kinesiology taping at all. The results of the study indicated that kinesiology taping did not make muscle performance easier. Which supports the case of those feeling that kinesiology taping might just have a placebo effect.
To Tape or Not to Tape?
It is therefore clear that kinesiology tape is definitely no magic bullet when it comes to ending all your running woes. It might, however, have a modest effect on improving range of motion if you are injured. And if you believe that it works for you, it might very well have a positive psychological impact as well. Plus you’ll sport a very trendy look in the process! Just remember to use taping as part of a broader, all-encompassing recovery strategy. And never use it to mask or push through over-training or injury.
And, if you’re not a fan, will you survive without it? Will you recover from your running injury without this brightly-colored addition to your (otherwise balanced) recovery program? Why yes, you most certainly will.
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