Over the past year or so, we have seen a heightened interest in “that cool looking tape” otherwise known as kinesiology tape. The tape has become more and more popular and is now even being sold in places like Target and City Sports. To weekend warriors, success with this new tape has been a bag of mixed reviews. Knowing the personal success I have encountered with taping my patients over the past 7 years, I thought a quick lesson on this taping method could clear up the most common questions I receive.
Question #1: Does this stuff really work?
Yes! The tape DOES indeed work. A particular ‘application’ of the tape may be ineffective, but the tape, when applied correctly does in deed work. Even the most talented therapist can apply an application incorrectly due to a variety of reasons. If the benefits aren’t being felt almost immediately, the tape should be removed and re-applied with the correct adjustments made.
Question #2: How does it work?
Like most therapy solutions, the answer is ‘it depends’. The tape is one of the most versatile treatment tools a massage therapist can provide second to their own hands. The stronger the understanding a person has with anatomy, physiology and movement patterns, the more versatile the tape becomes in treating musculoskeletal issues. However, even some basic understanding can yield significant results.
Traditional tape you may have been accustomed too such as athletic taping that is primarily used to limit movement and splint joints. (For instance, most of us have had a sprained ankle taped up at some point!)
Kinesiology taping is quite the opposite. Kinesiology tape is applied in a manner that provides both stability and mobility to the tissues as well as assisting in promoting blood and lymph flow. How? At its core, the tape is used to reduce pain and inflammation by its ability to lift the skin. This slight lift to the area being taped allows our bodies natural healing abilities to work more efficiently because of the extra space it creates under the surface of the skin. By using only 10% of available stretch of the tape, it can help to relieve pressure that compress pain receptors under the skin as well as create space for lymph and blood to filter and replenish the injured area.
Unlike, the aforementioned athletic tape that has no stretch capabilities, kinesiology tape can stretch to 140% (similar to our muscles) of its resting length. When applied correctly, its primary uses are to either facilitate (excite) or inhibit (relax) a particular movement pattern. This is done with very little tension applied to the tape (15-30% of available stretch).
Question #3: How long does it last?
Once again, the answer would be; “It depends”. Traditionally, once the tape is applied properly, it should be capable of maintaining its applied function for 3-4 days. The beauty of the tape is that it can be worn 24/7 providing around the clock therapy. Yes, it can even be worn in the shower or while you swim. I have several triathletes who will get taped on Friday before their Sunday races and report back the effectiveness of the taping. However, like I mentioned, the tape must be applied properly. This means that the area being treated must ALWAYS be cleaned properly with alcohol, removing any dirt or oils. Sorry Guys, if you are hairy you must shave. Taping over the hair eliminates the tapes primary functionality. Kinesiology tape’s effectiveness is in its ability to lift the skin, providing the appropriate lift, stretch and proprioceptive feedback to the brain.
Next, you must stretch/lengthen the area of the body being taped. (i.e. bring your heel back to your butt to stretch the front of your leg that is being taped) Your tape job will be ineffective otherwise. If you have done all the previous listed prep work BUT fail to activate the adhesive properties of the tape after you have laid it down with the appropriate amount of stretch on your clean, stretched skin, it will not last. Prior to moving the area being taped back to it original position you should gently rub over the tape with your hand to generate some heat, molding the adhesive to your body.
Last, I would like to say that in spite of versatility and capability of kinesiology tape, it is exponentially more effective when done in conjunction with other manual therapies such as massage or physical therapy. I have seen it be effective as a stand-alone therapy when used for minor issues, such as inflammation or postural assistance, but ideally its functionality is greatly enhanced when used as a part of a well-rounded program.
Bonus Question: Do only athletes use kinesiology tape?
Absolutely not! While kinesiology tape has gained a lot of popularity from the visibility of professional sports, everyone appreciates the benefits of kinesiology tape. The tape is applied to assist with or to provide relief for physically demanding activities, that can range from running/training for the Boston Marathon to working at a computer 40 hours a week. For instance, using the tape in conjunction with the relief you just felt from a massage that addressed your poor posture at the office can extend the benefit of your massage significantly. As an example, if your therapist has spent time working on tight muscles caused by leaning over your laptop as well as muscles that commonly break down from poor pasture, then the added assistance of the tape can provide desirable feedback to the brain, helping to maintain the benefits of the massage. Think of it as taking your therapists hands with you when you leave.
I hope I was able to provide a little insight about what some of the basics of kinesiology tape. As always, if you have questions or comments, please send them along and I will do my best to answer them. Until next month, keep moving and feel better!