Watch any sporting event today and you will likely see at least a few athletes tattooed with colorful elastic tape, or kinesio tape. The stuff is becoming ubiquitous in professional and amateur sports, and can be found under several different product names including KT Tape, RockTape, Spider Tape, and many more. While there are some subtle differences between these product lines, they are basically the same tape (some actually the exact same tape made in Asia and packaged under different names here in the States), with the same effects. Sure, the tape looks cool as youíre cruising down the home stretch of your marathon or triathlon, but what benefits does the tape really have, what does the research say, and is it right for you?
According to KT Tape, the tape is designed to be applied along muscles, ligaments, and tendons to provide a lightweight, strong, external support that helps to prevent injury and speed recovery. Thatís a fairly broad claim, so letís take a look at what the current available research supports.
Edema control (reducing swelling). Kinesio tape is being widely used by sports medicine doctors as a method of reducing inflammation and swelling following traumatic soft-tissue injury, such as an ankle sprain. Extensive swelling following an injury is a source of pain and will limit range of motion, and most agree that reduction of swelling is a goal in the acute care stage of injury therapy. The theory is that the elastic quality of the kinesio tape has a lifting effect on the skin which helps to promote edema reduction by promoting better lymphatic drainage. In fact, this can be plainly seen when you remove the tape from an area of swelling and bruising. This theory was put to the test and was supported by the evidence. Score one for kinesio tape.
Another claim made by the tape manufacturers is that you can increase muscle power through a complex neurological mechanism whereby tactile sensation of the skin with the tape will increase muscle activation. There are several studies looking at this theory, some of which support the claim, others which show no difference between the test and control groups. Obviously more research is needed in this area, but there are some positive trends. Iíll call this one a draw for kinesio tape.
The last major claim made about the tape is that it can increase joint range of motion, more specifically pain-free range of motion. The theory here is a combination of the muscle activation theory combined with the joint stabilizing effects of any taping method. As with the muscle power theory, there is evidence both supporting and refuting the claim. One study of note demonstrated an increase in pain-free shoulder range of motion in injured athletes following application of kinesio tape Ė perhaps this is the reason we see so much tape on volleyball players. Iíll call this one a draw for kinesio tape as well.
As with any method of therapy there is evidence both for and against its use. At the end of the day it really comes down to clinical outcomes on an individual basis. Kinesio tape may not be the ultimate answer to your muscloskeletal problems, but can be one piece of the rehab pie to get you back in the game as quickly as possible.