The Benefits of Kinesiology Tape

By Christopher Harper, PT, DPT, OCS | March 29, 2019, 10:49 a.m. (ET)

KT Tape

Kinesiology Tape is a product that affects various mechanical and neurological processes in the body. Outcomes of kinesiology taping are largely dependent on how it is applied, with specific application techniques producing desired effects. 

As a brief overview of the most common kinesiology taping methods, categorization of application technique-related theories can clarify understanding of this product's use. The various functions of kinesiology tape as proposed by manufacturers, clinical research and clinicians fall under five basic categories; lymphatic uptake augmentation, pain modification, proprioceptive enhancement and motor control influence, muscle function alteration and biomechanical assistance.

Lymphatic Augmentation

The inflammatory process increases fluid volume and pressure between cells, resulting in swelling leading to additional pain and inhibition of muscle function. Lymphatic capillaries are responsible for absorbing excessive intercellular fluid and debris. This uptake of fluid occurs through a microscopic mechanical process reliant on surrounding tissue movement and pressure changes. Kinesiology tape when applied appropriately for swelling creates convolutions in the skin with movement. 

It is these convolutions that are responsible for the augmentation of the lymphatic uptake function. It is this action that can enhance recovery from tissue stress not only from injury but also following intense athletic activity.

Pain Modification

Much like swelling, pain can inhibit muscle function but in some cases cause unwanted muscle activity such as spasm. Several randomized control trials have examined the effect of specific kinesiology taping on pain. The study designs have varied, though all have shown a positive effect of pain reduction with proper tape application. Results include kinesiology taping being as effective for mechanical neck pain reduction as manipulation, superior to sham taping for whiplash disorders as well as standard modalities in the treatment of shoulder impingement.

Proprioception Enhancement

The somatosensory system is the integration of sensory feedback with central processing and motor (muscle) control components of our nervous system. This arrangement helps us maintain joint stability, balance and coordination of movement with all activity. Proprioception is a subcomponent of somatosensation and defined as the stimuli from the body supplying the brain with information to consciously or unconsciously sense position, motion and equilibrium.

Research has established that skin strain has greater movement-related sensory input than feedback from muscle. Therefore it is theorized that skin afferents (sensory mechanoreceptors and nerves) have great influence on movement control.

Heightened skin strain patterns through kinesiology tape application are thought to enhance this documented sensory feedback and further improve movement control, balance and coordination.

Muscle Function Alteration

Kinesiology tape has also been used in a similar manner to established neurological rehabilitation concepts of precise tactile feedback for altering muscle tone. Early physiotherapy researchers observed that directionally specific tactile feedback on the skin would produce either facilitation (increased tone) or inhibition (decreased tone). With kinesiology tape applied in a specific method, an elastic recoil effect is produced back towards the initial tape anchor point, supplying directionally specific tactile feedback. It has been proposed that this technique supplies targeted somatosensory information and can either facilitate or inhibit local muscle function.

Biomechanical Assist

The accepted concept of using straps of material to improve joint stability or alter body mechanics has been around since ancient times. Modern medicine continues to use some of these ancient concepts, though with more contemporary resources. 

Since 1984, McConnell techniques have been considered the gold standard in addressing patellofemoral and scapulothoracic issues. Traditionally, McConnell techniques use a combination of two rigid, highly adhesive taping products with recommended wear times of under 18 hours. Since kinesiology tape has a wear time of 3 to 5 days and works at least equally as well as traditional tape in McConnell applications, it is sensible to use kinesiology tape for this style of techniques. A 2013 study compared these rigid tape products, kinesiology taping products and no tape in the McConnell-styled treatment of anterior knee pain.

The results were that both taping products yielded equally superior results compared to the no tape group. There are many other concepts in the history of orthopedic intervention that use strapping or light bracing techniques. The versatility of kinesiology tape allows its use for these applications as well.

For example, providing cross-fiber tension close to tendon attachments is thought to alter force vectors on the tendon bone insertion and temporally relief stress of the involved tissue. This technique is still used for many tendon issues as seen with arm strap and knee band products. Kinesiology tape can be applied to create a similar effect though without the compressive forces produced by straps or bands. Kinesiology tape can also be used to splint or position dysfunctional joints such as with bunions (hallux valgus) or nearly any other joint.

Summary

Kinesiology tape is a versatile product when used correctly, affecting proprioception through mechanoreceptors in the skin and in turn may improve the control of active movement. Specific application techniques can also enhance the body’s own natural uptake of interstitial fluid and debris by augmenting the mechanical action of the lymphatic system. Studies have shown that kinesiology taping techniques reduce pain and due to the elastic properties and breathability of KT Tape, it is an excellent alternative to other contemporary taping techniques used in splinting and altering Biomechanics.

There is a multitude of kinesiology taping products on the market and it can be a challenge to the consumer to know which product is best for their specific use. True kinesiology tape is longitudinally elastic and produced with a variety of important features. Quality to look for is a medical grade, hypoallergenic adhesive that presents in an intermittent or wave-like pattern for maximum breathability and ultimate wear-ability. Cotton fiber material is natural though tends to hold moisture which can negatively affect adhesive duration and skin health, where as synthetic materials tend to be more moisture wicking and durable. There are hundreds of possible applications which can be overwhelming to those who not been formally trained in these taping concepts. Fortunately companies such as KT Tape have resolved this by providing injury specific ideas for taping through easy-to-follow online video instruction.

Kinesiology tape has been shown to be a cost effective adjunct to traditional treatment. Despite this products versatility it is always recommended injuries be assessed and treated by a medical professional, however kinesiology tape, when applied appropriately is an accessible, effective and low risk supplementary tool in injury management.