Kinesiology Tape: Fake, Fad or Functional?


by Jeff Kozlik, PT, DPT

I remember when kinesiology tape exploded in popularity across the United States. It was during the 2008 Summer Olympics and the popular women’s beach volleyball team of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor were battling their way to another gold medal in Beijing.  At the time, Kerri Walsh was recovering from a rotator cuff injury and was using kinesiology tape to support her shoulder during her matches. The tape itself wasn’t necessarily something new.  Other athletes were using it too, but the tape was mostly covered by their uniforms and not easily identifiable. But in the summer of 2008, the fancy patterns and colorful tape on Kerri Walsh’s exposed shoulder caught many viewer’s attention as they watched the dynamic beach volleyball duo on national television. Soon after, the popularity of kinesiology tape soared among the demographics of American society. Student athletes were taping during sporting events, weekend warriors taped to control various aches and pains and professional athletes including Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and David Beckham proudly displayed their various tape configurations to control the manifestations of their injuries. Even veterinarians and horse trainers were using tape!!

So what is Kinesiology tape?
Actually, the use of kinesiology tape is not new.  Its origins date back to the 1970s, when a Japanese chiropractor, Dr. Kenzo Kase, engineered a flexible elastic tape to assist with his treatment interventions. He named his tape “Kinesio-Tape” and later trademarked the name.  Kinesiology tape, which all other similar tapes are called, can typically stretch up to 100% or more of its resting length. It is applied to the skin to support injured muscles, improve blood flow, improve lymphatic drainage and reduce pain, swelling and muscle fatigue.   At last check, there are now more than 50 different brands of kinesiology tape!   At Ortho RI-West Bay, we prefer to use Rocktape for its high quality, durability, ease of application and consistency.

How does it work?
Kinesiology taping is based more on theory than science. The general premise is that the application of an elastic tape offers structural muscular support to an injured or affected area. Additionally, applying tape, typically on a degree of stretch, to an injured body part creates a “fascial lift”. Fascia is a sheet of connective tissue that covers muscles and other body structures. Think of the thin clear film that covers a chicken breast. It is densely woven and interpenetrates nearly all structures of the body. Trauma, inflammatory responses and surgery can create high tensile pressures between the fascia and muscles subsequently restricting blood flow, lymphatic drainage and fluid exchange while contributing to compression of surrounding neural structures. When properly applied, kinesiology tape can reduce the stress across these sites by “decompressing” the affected tissue while providing support and stability to a joint.
Clinical indications for the use of kinesiology tape include:
Circulation (blood/lymph)
Poor muscle activation
Muscle inhibition
Weakness/Muscle fatigue
Tightness (improve range of motion)

Kinesiology tape is generally safe for use in most people, but contraindications include:
Over open wounds or skin lesions
Adhesive allergies
Infants, toddlers or children with communication issues
Geriatric population (fragile skin)
Pregnant abdomen
Ulna side of the elbow or posterior knee (caution due to superficial neurovascular structures)

There are some special considerations when using kinesiology tape. First, never blow dry the tape. The adhesive can heat quickly and burn the skin. Second, be careful when removing the tape. Because the adhesive may be very strong, rapidly or forcefully removing the tape from the skin may cause irritation. Finally, while the risk of skin reaction is typically low for most tapes, the skin should be closely monitored the first time tape is applied to ensure that there is no skin irritation due to allergic reaction.

Is it effective?
As the popularity of kinesiology tape has grown, there have been numerous studies and several systematic reviews that have investigated its merits. In general, the quality of evidence is insufficient in supporting the use of taping as a stand-alone treatment. However, there have been studies that have supported the use of kinesiology tape for pain management. Additionally, kinesiology tape has been shown to be effective in decreasing pain and improving function in the short term as an adjunct to a formal rehabilitation program. At Ortho RI, we utilize kinesiology tape based on the supportive literature, as part of a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan. Typically, we have found kinesiology tape to be most effective in the treatment of patellofemoral (knee) injuries, plantar fasciitis, tennis elbow, and shoulder pain. Many clients prefer taping over bracing or splinting, when indicated, because of its comfort and minimal restriction. While not supported as a single, stand-alone treatment option for your orthopedic problem, kinesiology tape when combined with a comprehensive rehabilitation plan can help with your pain control and recovery.

Click on the links here to see examples of kinesiology taping techniques for the shoulder and knee.