What does that tape do? This is a question I get asked a lot. Over the past few years we have seen the rise in the use of kinesio tape. There are many different brands which have come up- kinesio tape, kinesiology tape, KT Tape, Rock Tape, Spider tape, and the list goes on. I use it in the clinic a lot. So what does this tape do? Why is it so popular? Lets take a look.
Is there any medicine in the tape?
No. This tape has no medicinal component, or pain alleviating substance in the tape. It is simply an elastice sticky tape.
What does kinesio tape do?
Therein lies the question. What does it do? In order to answer this question we first have to look at what the intention is when applying it.
The first use I was taught for the tape while in graduate school was for edema management (reducing swelling). The tape is used in lymphadema treatment often. If applied in the correct manner, this tape can assist your body's mechanisms for getting rid of swelling in the limbs. The slight elastic component of the tape essentially lifts the skin away from the surface underneath and opens up the spaces through which swelling can leave the area. It in essence is attemting to create a larger drainage system for the body to use to get rid of swelling. I have found this particluarly useful in some post-surgical patients who have a lot of swelling. For example, after total knee replacement there tends to be a lot of swelling around the knee and leg. In addition to range of motion, ice, electrical stimulation, elevation and manual therapy, this tape can be used as another tool in the arsenal against swelling. The quicker we can get rid of that swelling, the faster the recovery will be. When tape is applied for this purpose the tape is cut into strips which resemble an octopus. It's always fun to have an octopus on your leg - right? I've been known to draw some amazing figures on the patient's tape as well!
The manufacturers of the tape claim the tape can help in the reduction of pain. This is a tricky thing to prove in research, because pain can have several different sources. What I have found to be successful in regards to pain relief, is dealing with a tendonosis (tendonitis) issue. When applying the tape for this type of patient, my intention isn't necessarily edema control, and therefore the application is different. The elastic component of the tape allows us to either assist the function of the ailing tendon, or reduce the strain being placed on it. This can have a similar effect that bands used for patellar tendonitis or tennis elbow have. By using the tape to reduce the tension being placed on the tendon, we can effectively reduce the strain being placed on the injured tissue. Even if the effect is a 10% reduction in tension, this will allow that much more relief and assist to speed up the healing process. So the pain reduction is as a result of the mechanical forces the tape is producing on the body.
This is what a lot of people want to use the tape for. Will it give me a competitive edge on someone? Now when I say performance here, I am referring to the whole spectrum of performance. From being able to walk with the adequate stability at the hip, to the ability to throw a faster pitch. I personally believe that the tape can have a small effect on some performance, but the effects will be greatest at lower levels of performance. At higher levels of performance, the tape will potentially assist in the reduction of strain on the body, but I don't see it helping produce a faster pitch. With that being said, this tape can be a very effective tool in the recruitment of muscle groups. Whereas the previous use of the tape focused on the mechanical forces it was producing, this use of the tape taps into the neuromuscular component. This is an area of exercise sports science and rehabilitation which is a little more difficult to understand, because it doesn't involve something purely anatomical. It invovles the software in the body which helps us move more efficiently. The fancy word for this is proprioceptive neuromuscular fascilitation (PNF). The tension of the tape placed on the skin sends a neural signal to your brain which can assist in creating a particluar action. For example if you place your hand on someone's arm and ask them to push against your hand, you will get a much more effective muscle activation in the direction you want than if you just say, "Move you arm up". Notice we aren't saying the tape assists the actual motion of the muscles here, but instead helps to stimulate the correct muscle activation. This tenchnique is widely used in physical therapy from a manual standpoint. This tape can then serve as the "Take-Out" version of the PNF you would be getting in the clinic. It isn't as effecient as a skilled therapist's hands on you, but it can provide a little bit of assistance to you while you don't have their hands on you.
So there you have it. These are the top 3 reasons I use this tape. I have my background in athletic training, so I love to play with tape (Any ATC's out there will understand). I am regularly testing out other uses for this tape, as I have found its versatility to be its primary benefit.