KINESIOTAPE: What it is, what it does, and the research behind it
Have you suffered a recent muscular injury or know someone who has? Do you watch the Olympics? If you answered yes to either question, then you probably already know what kinesiotape is, and have likely seen it. But if you don’t know, kinesiotape (KT) is a popular palliative measure now used by most healthcare practitioners to speed up the recovery of a muscular injury. KT is the colored strip(s) of material that many athletes, particularly Olympians, wear while competing. Kinesiotape differs from “athletic tape” because the kinesiotape is more flexible and supposedly allows the athlete to maintain a full range of motion while using it. Kinesiotape is popular and fairly ubiquitous, but does it work?
There are many hypotheses as to how kinesiotape works. Some believe that the tape mimics human touch, and its application tricks the body into forgetting the pain to focus on the perception of “touch.” Others believe that the tape brings increased blood flow to the area and speeds up recovery, while a third belief is that the tape is purely psychological: the patient is more aware of the injury when it is taped, and is subsequently more cautious.
We can sit around and guess all day but here is some research:
1. A study published in 2008 (Thelen, Mark, MD. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2008 Jul; 38:389-95) took 42 participants with shoulder impingement/rotator cuff tendonitis. It investigated kinesiotape’s effect on active ranges of motion on these 42 participants. Results showed that the participants using the KT had an increased, pain-free range of motion compared to those who didn’t use the KT. The study concluded that kinesiotape may assist in improving a pain-free, active range of motion.
2. A second study (Gonzalez—Iglesias, J. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009 Jul;39:515-21) looked at 42 people with neck pain. This study sought to find if kinesiotape can affect pain levels and active ranges of motion in the necks of the participants. Results indicated that the kinesiotape led to statistically significant improvements in whiplash-associated disorders, but minimal improvements in pain and ranges of motion.
3. Study number three (Fu, TC and AM Wong. J Sci Med Sport. 2008 Apr;11:198-201. Epub 2007 Jun 27) is a pilot study that investigated the effect of KT on athlete’s muscle strength. Of the 14 healthy athletes used in the study, none demonstrated changes in their muscle strength (either an increase or decrease) as a result of using kinesiotape.
Based on the aforementioned research studies, we can conclude that kinesiotape doesn’t significantly affect overall pain levels or strength, but does seem to positively affect pain-free, active, ranges of motion. The studies didn’t discuss the physiological reasoning behind KT’s ability to improve active ranges of motion, so that debate will continue. Although I didn’t find any studies investigating the psychological effect of KT, I believe it does make the patient more aware of their injury, and thus more cautious.
In summary, it appears KT does not affect overall pain levels, but likely improves a pain-free active range of motion, which is highly beneficial to anyone, especially athletes. No wonder so many athletes—particularly Olympians—use it!