“Something better than any laser, wrap, or electric massager…The Tape. It is a special hot-pink athletic tape that came from Japan and seemed to have special powers. Every morning before the stage, they would tape us all up, different parts of our bodies… George’s back, Chechu’s knees. Sometimes we’d be so wrapped up in hot-pink tape that we’d look like dolls, a bunch of broken dolls. But the next day the pain disappeared..it was gone.”
-Lance Armstrong, Tour de France champion
What is Kinesiology Taping
We’ve all seen it by now, athletes from grade school to the Professional and Olympic ranks sporting the multi-colored tape. So what exactly is it and more importantly can it help you?
Let’s first start with the number one question people have when they see the tape. What does it do? The answer, as you would imagine is not so simple. The tape holds a multitude of purposes when used properly. However, at the risk of making this a 2000 word post, I will try to keep this as simple and informative as possible.
Kinesiology tape can be used for many common conditions we encounter not only in sports, but also in our everyday lives. We see it predominantly in the sporting arena simply because of the viewing access we have to sports and the exposure of skin in sports such as Basketball, track and Volleyball. However, I assure you, just as many baseball and football players wear it as well as your fellow co-workers and soccer moms, you just don’t see it.
Kinesiology tape or as it has become known, “K-Tape”, is primarily used to treat pain. The tape essentially works as a communication system between the area of pain and the brain (central nervous system). It does this by providing sensory input to the skin. Our skin is the largest organ in our body and is often overlooked when treating pain. Our skin is one of our primary sensor systems that alert us to danger. The tape works by providing sensory input through subcutaneous (below the skin) free nerve endings. When applied to the skin, the tape will provide a biomechanical lift as well as recoil from the stretch of the tape. This sensory input works to override pain sensations being signaled from the area to the brain.
Pain science is one of the most unknown of the sciences. This is primarily due to the fact that the brain is the most complex piece of ‘technology’ in the world. Pain is an output from the brain and NOT an input from the tissues. Essentially, the prevalent theory in pain science, known as the ‘Neuromatrix Theory of Pain’ proposes that pain is a multidimensional experience produced by individual, characteristic “neurosignature” patterns of nerve impulses generated by a widely distributed neural network in the brain, a network renown Professor Ronald Melzack calls, the “body-self neuromatrix”. This means that beyond the sensory input being received, the brain considers MANY more factors when determining how much pain we REALLY feel. Hence the reason why we all experience pain differently. These neurosignature patterns may be triggered by sensory inputs from something such as a muscle strain, but they may also be generated independently of them (think chronic pain). This means that beyond the sensory input being received, the brain considers MANY more factors when determining how much pain we REALLY feel.
To simplify this, consider that the tape acts as a storyteller. It is trying to change the message being sent to the brain in order help the brain form a better opinion of the situation.
By providing different degrees of tape tension, we can deliver a new sensory input. Tape tension with kinesiology tape is not like any other type of taping (think white athletic tape on an ankle sprain). Kinesiology tape is applied over and around ‘target tissues’ to encourage movement and to restore fresh blood to the tissues. Athletic taping is designed to restrict mobility and to mobilize a joint. This is not to say that athletic taping is ineffective, but rather that kinesiology taping is a different adjunct to the treatment of injuries.
The tape also functions by providing a biomechanical lift to the skin. In doing so, the tape can help increase the amount of space just beneath the skin (interstitial space) where there may be swelling. By doing this, fluid is moved out of the tissue spaces through the mild compressive force of both the tape and muscles, acting as an external pumping agent. Essentially assisting the body’s natural means of eliminating waste from the tissues spaces (Lymphatic System). When the swelling is reduced, less pressure is being placed on the free nerve endings beneath the skin, therefore the noxious signals once being sent to the brain are also reduced, signaling a new message to the brain.
The use of kinesiology tape can be an extremely effective means of coping with pain. When applied correctly, kinesiology tape can prolong the effectiveness on many other rehab solutions, making it a great partner in the treatment process.
Last, when applied correctly, the tape will typically remain in tact for approximately 5 days (sometimes more). It may be worn in the shower or while swimming and just needs to be pat dry upon exit of the water (do not use a blow dryer). Where I see applications fail the most is in this preparation phase. The skin MUST be cleaned with alcohol and should never be applied over hair. This will eliminate any chance of lift as well as provide channels where moisture can get under the adhesive. Failure to observe these two things will negate any chance of effectiveness.
For more information about kinesiology tape, we encourage you to go to speak with your therapist to see if kinesiology taping is right for you.
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