While the benefits of applying traditional athletic tape to injured muscles has long been debated by experts, athletes continue to rely on various taping techniques to help them heal more quickly and protect their muscles and joints during sports competition.
During the 2008 Olympic games, the benefits of athletic taping made headlines when a new type of athletic tape showed up on the shoulders, arms, legs and backs of many high-profile athletes. Volleyball star Kerri Walsh may have even become the unintentional poster girl for Kinesio tape, which was donated by the manufacturer to 58 countries for use during the Games. The Kinesio tape and its unique taping technique brought more than just a rainbow of colors to the athletes. It also brought limited evidence that it may, in fact, relieve pain and promote healing of injured muscles better than traditional tape.
Traditional athletic tapes are generally applied over gauze to form a stiff, somewhat inflexible, bandage with the goal of supporting, and usually immobilizing, a joint or muscle. Kinesio tape, however, is extremely strong and flexible. Kinesio also uses a proprietary taping method complete with certification classes and seminars for practitioners. The tape is applied in a specific pattern, and either stretched or not stretched, depending on the injury. Those behind Kinesio claim that in addition to supporting injured muscles and joints, the taping method helps relieve pain by lifting the skin, allowing blood to flow more freely to the injured area.
Does Kinesio Tape Work?
While research is limited on the specific merits of Kinesio taping, what is available indicates that it may be effective.
In 2008, the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy published a study comparing legitimate Kinesio taping with sham Kinesio taping on patients with rotator cuff tendonitis and impingement. The results showed that the patients who received the real therapeutic taping method reported an improvement in pain levels during active range of motion exercise immediately after the tape was applied. However, they did not find any differences in the reported pain levels of the two groups at any other time in the study.
Another study from San Jose State University reported that in 30 healthy individuals, the use of the tape along the lower trunk area appeared to increase the range of motion in trunk flexion.
Among Kinesio's biggest supporters is none other than Tour de France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong. He praised the "special hot-pink athletic tape that came from Japan and seemed to have magical powers" in his book Every Second Counts.
Athletic Tape for Healthy Athletes?
Whie Kinesio taping may have some benefits for injured athletes. But so far, studies don't find any use of the tape for healthy athletes. It doesn't seem to prevent injures, nor does it increase muscle strength or power in healthy non-injured young athletes.
Should You Use Kinesio Tape?
So far, there is a lot of growing support and some evidence for the benefits of Kinesio tape versus traditional athletic tape for helping injured athletes reduce pain and recover more quickly. I suspect we'll see other athletic tape manufacturers coming out with their own version of a new, flexible, supportive tape shortly.
Will it work for you? Possibly. However, more research is needed to learn what this tape can and cannot do. It's also important to remember that using athletic tape may be helpful as you are recovering from an occasional injury, but should not become a regular accessory. Playing while injured, without allowing proper time to heal completely, can easily lead to chronic pain and injuries. If you have the option to take time off and heal from injury, that is still the preferred method of injury recovery.
Mark D. Thelen, James A. Dauber, Paul D. Stoneman, The Clinical Efficacy of Kinesio Tape for Shoulder Pain, Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, July 2008, Vol 38, No. 7.
Yoshida A, Kahanov L., The effect of kinesio taping on lower trunk range of motions. Research in Sports Medicine. 2007 Apr-Jun;15(2):103-12.
Fu TC, et al. Effect of Kinesio taping on muscle strength in athletes-a pilot study. J Sci Med Sport. 2008 Apr;11(2):198-201. Epub 2007 Jun 27.