Kinesiology Tape in Physical Therapy
By Brett Sears, PT – Reviewed by a board-certified physician.
Updated July 11, 2016
If you have suffered an injury or illness that causes a problem with your functional mobility or normal activity, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist to help you return to your previous level of mobility. Your physical therapist may use various exercises and modalities to help treat your specific problem.
Kinesiology taping is one specific mode of treatment that your physical therapist may use.
It involves placing strips of special tape on your body in specific directions to help improve your mobility and support your joints, muscles, and tendons.
Kinesiology tape was developed in the 1970’s by a chiropractor named Dr. Kenso Kase, DC. He found that using a flexible tape that harnessed the interface between the skin and the muscles could provide long-lasting effects for his patients. He developed many of the techniques used in kinesiology taping today, and he also has his own brand of tape called Kinesiotape.
Is Kinesiology Tape Just Fancy Athletic Tape?
While kinesiology tape seems a lot like a fancy form of athletic tape, there are many differences between the two. Athletic tape is used for support and to limit motion, and kinesiology tape is used to facilitate motion and inhibit pain and spasm. Kinesiology tape is a flexible material that moves when you move; athletic tape is relatively inflexible.
Kinesiology tape helps to improve lymph transport and increase circulation. The tight binding nature of athletic tape serves to decrease circulation.
What Does Kinesiology Tape Do?
Kinesiology tape serves different functions when applied. Your physical therapist will perform an evaluation and assessment to determine the best use of kinesiology tape for your condition.
He or she will assess if the tape is even necessary for you or if there are any contraindications to using the tape.
There are different theories about how kinesiology tape works. First, it is thought to change the proprioception input of the sensory nervous system in the muscles, joints, and skin. The tape is thought to improve the interaction between the skin and the underlying structures to help reset the circuitry of this part of the nervous system resulting in improved muscular activation and performance.
Kinesiology tape is also thought to inhibit nociceptors, or pain pathways, in your muscles, skin, and joint structures. Decreasing painful input to the brain is thought to normalize muscle tone, resulting in decreased pain and muscular spasm.
In general, it is thought that kinesiology tape helps to create balance in the neural circuitry in muscles, tendons, joints, and skin. This is thought to work to reduce pain, decrease swelling, and improve muscle performance and function.
Kinesiology tape is also thought to realign joint positions, and it may also be useful in remodeling collagen tissues such as in scar tissue management.
Are There Different Types of Kinesiology Tape?
There are over 50 different types and brands of kinesiology tape on the market today such as Kinesiotape, KT Tape, or RockTape. Some specific tapes are designed for sports performance, and others are designed for lymphedema and swelling management. Your physical therapist can help you decide which tape is best for your specific condition.
Specific Uses for Kinesiology Tape
There are many different uses for kinesiology tape. Your physical therapist can assess your current situation and injury to decide on the best use of the tape. He or she can also teach you how to cut the basic types of strips to use for your condition. Some common uses of kinesiology tape include:
Facilitation: Kinesiology tape can be used to help improve muscular firing and contraction patterns. This can lead to normalized muscular tone and can also help improve athletic performance.
Inhibition and pain management: Kinesiology tape can be used to help decrease pain and muscle spasm that may occur after injury. It can help decrease nociceptive input to the brain which can help decrease muscle guarding and protective spasm.
Support and stability: If you have a condition that requires a specific joint to be held in place, kinesiology taping may be right for you. Conditions like patellofemoral stress syndrome, iliotibial band friction syndrome, or shoulder instability may benefit from extra support provided by kinesiology tape. The tape can support your joint while still allowing for some motion to occur.
Swelling management: If you have suffered an injury or have had surgery that results in increased swelling, kinesiology tape may help to decrease the swelling by decreasing pressure between the skin and underlying tissues. This provides a pathway for excess fluids that have accumulated since your injury to travel through. Kinesiology tape is sometimes used in lymphedema management or for superficial contusions.
Scar tissue management: After surgery or trauma, you may have a scar over the area that was injured. Sometimes the tissue underneath the scar binds to your skin and underlying fascia. This scar tissue can limit your normal mobility and range of motion. Kinesiology tape can be used to gently pull on scar tissue, providing a low intensity, long duration stretch to the tight collagen that makes up scar tissue.
Does Kinesiology Tape Really Work?
Since kinesiology taping is a relatively new and novel concept in the field of physical therapy, much research still needs to be done to understand the mechanisms of how the tape works and if it truly lives up to its claims.
Recent studies have shown that the use of kinesiology tape can improve muscular contractions in the vastus medialis, a specific part of the quadriceps muscle responsible for controlling the position of your kneecap.
One study demonstrated improved low back range of motion immediately after application of kinesiology tape. Another study showed short-term improvements in neck pain and cervical motion in patients with whiplash injuries who used kinesiology tape.
To support the use of kinesiology tape to improve athletic performance, RockTape conducted a study of 5 cyclists and found that they performed 2-6% better with the application of kinesiology tape (specifically RockTape) when compared to not using the tape. Of course, the study is loaded with bias, as it was sponsored by RockTape, consisted of only 5 athletes, and there was no control group.
Other studies have examined the effect of kinesiology taping and pain, swelling, and improved mobility with varied results. The bottom line: the jury is still out on kinesiology taping, and more work needs to be done.
If you have an injury that results in pain, swelling, loss of motion, or muscle spasm your physical therapist may recommend using kinesiology tape to help treat your problem. He or she should teach you about the tape and help you set realistic goals and expectations regarding using kinesiology tape.
Sources: Blubaugh, M. “Kinesiology taping, manual therapy, and neuromuscular re-activation.” Seminar, May, 2014. Albany, NY.
Gonzalez-Iglesias, J. etal. “Short-term effects of cervical kinesio taping on pain and cervical range of motion in patients with acute whiplash injury: a randomized, controlled trial.” JOSPT 39(7), 2009. 515-521.
Hyun, M. etal. “The effect of Kinesio Tape on lower extremity functional movement screen scores” IJES, 5(3) 2012.
MacGregor, K. etal. “Cutaneous stimulation from patella tape causes a differential increase invasti muscle activity in people with patellofemoral pain” Journal of Orthopaedic Research March 2005, Vol.23(2):351–358
van den Dries, G. etal. “The clinical efficacy of Rocktape in a performance enhancing application” Published online at http://rocktape.com/wp-content/uploads/rocktape-clinical-test.pdf