Kinesiology taping (KT) has become ubiquitous among athletes in recent years after widespread use during the last several Olympic Games. The tape was initially highly visible on the shoulders, knees, and low backs of high-level volleyball athletes. Currently, it is common while watching college and professional sports to see many different athletes participating with various types of kinesiology tape applied to a variety of body regions.
Kinesiology tape (KT), also known as k-tape, or by many other brand names, is a therapeutic material used by chiropractors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other health care professionals. It provides support, stability, and pain relief to various parts of the body, and most commonly used on the shoulders, knees, ankles, neck, and back.
KT was first introduced in the 1970s by Dr. Kenzo Kase, a Japanese chiropractor, and acupuncturist. Since then, it has gained a worldwide following and popularity, and is now widely used in sports medicine and rehabilitation. A number of peer-reviewed articles and reviews have been published in medical literature over the last several years, with some articles demonstrating improvement in orthopedic-related pain and function associated with use of KT.
According to several research review articles, KT may be effective in reducing disability and aiding in recovery for many orthopedic conditions, especially when used in conjunction with exercise and other manual therapy interventions.
KT is manufactured by many different companies, and there may be subtle differences in materials and components used. Kinesiology tape is made from a thin, elastic layer, and adhesive material that allows it to stretch and move with the body. It is applied in specific patterns, and with varied levels of pre-application stretch to achieve various therapeutic effects, such as support, edema reduction, blood flow stimulation, or lymphatic drainage. In some cases, the tape may reduce inflammation and swelling, which could benefit people recovering from injury or some orthopedic surgeries.
Another proposed mechanism is that KT may apply tension to skin, or possibly lift the skin, affect fluid flow and swelling, and support injured areas of the body. Some studies demonstrate potential improvement in muscle activation and recruitment associated with KT. Its use has also been associated with a decrease in bruising, swelling, and lymphedema, as well as a quicker resolution of joint sprain/strain injuries.
Kinesiology tape is traditionally made from an elastic cotton-based material along with an elastic (often acrylic) adhesive layer. Many kinesiology tapes are water-repellent and can be worn on the skin for several days. The elastic cotton and acrylic adhesive are applied to clean skin and activated by manual friction, post-application.
Care is required to avoid skin irritation when the tape is removed as most tapes have a high level of adhesion. Removal of hair in the applied area should be considered prior to application. Although various kinesiology tapes are sold over-the-counter at pharmacies, online, or at sporting goods stores, it is possible that an improved and safer outcome can be achieved if a trained professional applies the tape. Improper application can lead to skin irritation (typically when too much tension is used during application) decreased effectiveness, and even discomfort.
Dr. Mark Pfefer, a chiropractor and the director of research at Cleveland University-Kansas City, has seen firsthand what KT can do.
“Based upon our clinical experience, kinesiology tape has beneficial effects on range of motion and muscle function, and relief from pain in a variety of populations,” Pfefer said.
KT is relatively low-risk but users should exercise caution if they have allergies or skin sensitivity to the materials listed on the packaging, or are sensitive/allergic to skin adhesives. Some patients with sensitive skin may have various levels of redness and irritation. Most KT brands are latex-free and hypoallergenic. As long as excessive tension is not used when applying the tape, most patients will be able to tolerate it well.
Most brands of tape can be worn for several days without irritation to the skin. Many tapes are porous and breathable, allowing air and moisture to circulate between tape and skin, which likely reduces irritation and sensitivity. The tape can be removed any time there is sensitivity or irritation. KT should be removed typically after 2-3 days, although new tape can be applied at that time if the initial tape application was well tolerated.
KT is applied to clean, intact skin only, never over an open or recent wound. The tape is cut to size and the edges are rounded with scissors to prevent fraying. The tape is often applied with no- or a very slight pre-stretch or tension, starting at one end and gradually adding slight tension as it is applied. The tape is rubbed to activate and promote good adhesion. Bubbles and wrinkles should be avoided.
Kinesiology taping has become quite popular among high-level and recreational athletes during the last decade. Various brands of kinesiology tapes are available for the public to purchase and are not typically expensive. It may be helpful for some users as a home-based, self-care intervention but for many, it might be best — at least initially — to have a trained healthcare professional apply it.
Many potential benefits are likely associated with the use of KT including pain relief, muscle support, improved performance, faster recovery, reduced muscle fatigue, and improved muscle recruitment and proprioception.