Kinesio Tape: Fashion Fad or Sports Medicine Cure?

| April 6, 2015 | 0 Comments

by Sean Ryback

Recently, I was watching a lifting competition on TV with a friend and we discussed the new trend of athletes wearing brightly colored neon elastic tape on their bodies. Is it a new flashy fashion trend in the exercise world or innovative technology for correct muscle function, improved circulation, pain relief, and increased mobility? Does the current body of scientific research provide a definitive answer?

Using his comprehensive knowledge of advanced anatomy and biomechanics, Chiropractor Kenzo Kase invented elastic therapeutic tape, commonly known as Kinesio tape, in the 1970s. This easy-to-use tape is one-hundred percent cotton (latex free) and maintains the same flexibility as human skin. It has a heat activated adhesive that is comfortable to wear and is also hypoallergenic. Kinesio tape varies in size and thickness depending or where on the body it is being used. Last but not least, it comes in a variety of colors to satisfy the fashion needs of every athlete. How and why is it used?

The purpose of applying Kinesio tape is to facilitate the body’s natural healing processes for therapeutic benefits. This involves the practitioner, typically a physical therapist or sports medicine trainer, manipulating soft tissue and joints into the correct alignment. Then, specific taping protocols are followed to keep these soft tissue and joints in the correct position for an extended period of time. In fact, after being administered, Kinesio tape is worn 24 hours a day and is durable enough for three to four days of use.

Supporters say it has healing benefits for more than 1,200 recognizable aliments in the body including lower back pain, knee pain, shin splints, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tennis elbow. Unlike traditional athletic taping, Kinesio tape is nonrestrictive and allows for full range of motion. It is claimed to be revolutionary because it microscopically lifts the skin to increase circulation of blood and lymphatic system, which in return has a positive affect on your neurological system. These neurological effects can be a pain reduction and faster recovery of an area from injury. Furthermore, Kinesio tape alleges that it can allow muscles to be aligned correctly and reposition of the significant structural displacement within joints throughout the body.

Kinesio tape has said to be a safe therapeutic taping technique from the pediatric to the geriatric population. Over 150,000 medical practitioners utilize this therapeutic protocol worldwide. The uses range from injury rehab, to amateur sports, and professional athletes and training staffs. It has been widely seen in the public eye more increasingly since it was used by Olympic athletes in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and 2012 London Summer Olympics. Currently, more than half the teams in the NFL, two thirds of teams in the MLB, and one third of NBA Teams utilize Kinesio tape in their athletic training rooms. Other professional athletes such as cyclist, soccer players, golfers, individuals in endurance sports, and tennis players also have utilized this form of rehab and performance. Does it work?

The effectiveness of Kinesio tape has been mixed in scientific literature. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, conducted a systematic review utilizing meta-analysis; a statistical method for combining results from different studies. It focused on Kinesio tapes effects on pain and also methods of tape application. The study suggested that Kinesio taping provided significantly more pain relief then with no treatment, but was not better than other treatment approaches. The same Journal article did not find any significant changes in disability that lasts more than four weeks as a result of Kinesio taping.

However, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, “Effects of Kinesio Taping on Skeletal Muscle Strength: A Meta-Analysis of Current Evidence,” suggests that applying elastic therapy tape to facilitate muscular contraction has only negligible or no effects on muscular strength. Furthermore, a 2012 publication in Sports Med, “Kinesio Taping in Treatment and Prevention of Sports Injuries: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence for its Effectiveness” found that the efficiency of elastic therapeutic tape in pain relief was trivial given that no studies found clinically important results. It may have a small beneficial role in improving strength/range of motion in certain injured individuals compared with other elastic tapes, but further studies are needed to confirm these findings. Additionally, Kinesio tape has some substantial effects on muscle activity, but it is unclear whether these changes were beneficial or harmful.

Kinesio tape has a relatively large following in recent years, but the hard scientific data is still uncertain of the benefits and/or draw backs. Anecdotal evidence for the positive outcomes of Kinesio tape is vast and many sports medicine professionals swear by its therapeutic properties. There may be placebo effects for individuals utilizing this technique, either they feel more confident with the Kinesio tape on or possibly are more aware of the recovering area, changing their movement patterns. At this point, it is only anecdotal and the evidence from published peer-reviewed scientific journals tend to state that it has some promise of beneficial results, but further research needs to be done.

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