If you’ve watched any sporting event from the Olympics to wrestling, you’ve likely noticed an athlete wearing what looks like strips of often colourful tape around certain areas like their knee or shoulder. Maybe your physiotherapist or chiropractor has applied that tape to an injury of your own, but what exactly is that tape? Surely it’s more than just a fashion statement, right?
What is Kinesiology Tape?
Kinesiology tape (often referred to as KT tape) is an elastic tape that’s applied to muscles to provide support and sensory feedback. The elastic quality of the tape mimics the elasticity of human skin so that the tape does not limit your range of motion when applied, it moves with your skin and muscles to allow you to perform normally.
KT tape has become synonymous with the athletic world but in physiotherapy and other manual therapy practices, it’s a staple for helping to treat pain, injury and a variety of other concerns in patients.
How Does It Work?
Since the tape was created to mimic the movement and elasticity of the skin, it’s believed that the tape helps to create a tiny amount of space between the skin and underlying tissues. As you move, the tape gently lifts the skin enough to create that space which can help with tension, pain, swelling, etc. A similar mechanism is thought to occur when using KT tape for joint-specific reasons – the tape creates just enough tension to allow a slight amount of space within the joint, decreasing risk of irritation.
KT tape is made of nylon and cotton with a medical-grade adhesive that should not irritate most skin (there are various “strengths” of adhesive if you do find that one brand/type of tape does cause irritation). This adhesive and material allows the tape to stand up to sweat and water meaning that one application can typically last 3-5 days before it begins to peel off or is no longer effective.
Can I Apply Kinesiology Tape Myself?
Kinesiology tape is often applied by a physiotherapist, athletic therapist or other manual practitioners like those at Willow Park Physio. KT tape needs to be applied with the correct amount of tension and in the correct way (there are different “patterns” that produce different results). However, if your area of concern is in an easy-to-reach area you may be able to apply your own KT tape, just ask your physiotherapist to show you how to properly apply it to suit your needs.
What are the Benefits of Kinesiology Tape?
Kinesiology tape has many benefits, these include:
There is research to support the use of KT tape in pain management for a variety of injuries and concerns from shoulder pain to neck pain. When used in combination with physiotherapy and/or DOMs protocol, the reduction of pain and swelling was significant, especially when compared to those using use manual therapy treatments.
Helps with Swelling
Due to the tension and suspected space created by the lifting of the skin, KT tape has shown modest results when it comes to reducing swelling and encouraging the better circulation of fluids in the affected area.
KT tape can be used outside of the treatment of injuries as well. In those with Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder/Ehlers Danlos (HSD/EDS) KT tape can be used as a tool for proprioception – similar to compression garments, the tape makes the patient more aware of the joints or muscles that they may using in a dysfunctional way, ultimately causing them increased pain or injury.
Additionally, there is research to support the effects of using KT tape to retrain muscles that have lost strength or that have been used incorrectly for a significant amount of time such as the postural muscles of the head/neck. In these cases, KT tape can be used to maintain awareness of how you’re moving that particular area increasing awareness.
KT tape can also help with joint support, increasing blood flow/circulation, and athletic performance. It’s important to note that kinesiology tape is best used in addition to other treatments such as manual therapy, exercise/stretching, hydrotherapy, etc. On its own, results may be minimized.
Who Should Avoid Using Kinesiology Tape?
While kinesiology tape is considered generally safe for most, it should be avoided in certain cases, such as:
- Over open wounds.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis.
- Those with active cancer.
- Near lymph nodes in those that have had lymph node removal.
- Those with allergies to adhesives.
- Those with fragile skin (for example, when using with HSD/ESD patients testing tolerance to adhesive/using lower strength adhesive may be necessary).