One of the latest trends in healthcare over recent years has been the use of kinesiotape for managing pain and injuries. Professional and amateur athletes alike are turning to the tape in increasing numbers to help manage soreness in muscles and joints as well as accelerate healing.
Not familiar with kinesiotape? You should be. It’s an excellent alternative to potentially risky medications for the management of acute and chronic pain. It can be used on just about any part of the body and risks of any side effects are fairly low. It doesn’t contain any medication and can be effective for a broad range of conditions, from sprains and strains to arthritic pain.
Kinesiotape is, basically, just a cloth tape with a skin adhesive. Unlike a traditional athletic tape, kinesiotape does not restrict movement but, instead, moves with your body. Full range of motion is still possible with application of the tape. The skin over the affected area now works with the kinesiotape to help improve function in an affected area and decrease pain. How does it work? Well there are several theories:
- Improved proprioception – Now, this is one of those fancy health terms but, basically, the tape improves your body’s ability to sense and respond to the environment. Applying the tape to the skin acts as a minor stimulus to heighten the sensitivity of the soft tissues to movement (improved proprioception). Increased soft tissue sensation allows the body to respond and adapt to stress better, including additional stresses to the joints and tissues. It will also decrease the likelihood of additional injury.
- Lifting the skin off the affected area – In many instances, the inflammatory processes that produce pain lie below the skin. When taped properly, contraction of the kinesiotape will help to lift skin off the affected area and decrease pressure of more superficial tissues on the affected area, leading to decrease deep tissue irritation.
- Improved circulation – As you move the tape expands and contracts with the skin according to your movement. This will help pump new blood supply into the area and encourage a decrease in swelling. The tape improve oxygenated blood supply to the area but also increase vein activity to draw fluid, including swelling, away from the affected area. Improved circulation will also decrease muscle spasming and will bring in immune cells to help repair the damaged tissues.
- Improved lymphatic flow – Your lymphatic system is you “other circulatory system.” Consisting of a series of vessels and lymph nodes distributed around the body, your lymphatic system helps to remove cellular waste from the tissues, including lactic acid which can cause pain. Like your veins, the lymphatic system requires movement to accomplish lymphatic flow. Kinesiotaping helps to improve lymphatic flow, drawing inflammatory products away from the injured area. Additionally, because the lymphatic system is a critical component of the immune system, improved lymphatic flow will improve the body’s ability to heal.
- Gate theory – Most patients with chronic pain are familiar with a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) unit. A tens unit works by electrically stimulating mechanical nerve receptors for the tissues and joints. By stimulating those receptors, you can trick nervous system into paying less attention to pain sensitive nerves (nociceptors). In a similar fashion, kinesiotepe stimulates these receptors mechanically, desensitizing the pain sensitive portion of the nervous system.
- Shifted load – Because kinesiotape is an elastic tape, taping over the area will shift some of the physical stress load off the soft tissues and onto the tape. While it is not generally intended to restrict movement, the tape does have some bracing effect by supplementing your soft tissues.
- Mobility reatraining – The Tape can be applied in such a way as to retrain a joint to move and function differently according to how the tape is a applied. Accomplishing this may require additional training by the person applying the kinesiotape.
While taping is not generally indicated for joint restriction, there are some instances where you can accomplish stability with kinesiotape, including taping the shoulder blade into position or taping an extremity joint to minimize motion, such as an ankle or wrist.
Will kinesiotape replace physical therapy or chiropractic care? No. The tape is simply a tool used to improve a soft tissue’s ability to function while managing pain. In many cases, rehabilitative care is still necessary and taping will not substitute for spinal adjusting, exercise therapy or practical prevention. Kinesiotaping is a low tech simple approach to managing pain without harmful chemical side effects of medications.
There are some contraindications to taping. This includes taping over a rash or skin irritation, application over a sun burn, open wounds, specific contraindications to bracing, and in patients who have sensitivities to adhesive bandages. Out of the hundreds of patients to whom I’ve applied tape, I’ve only seen a few patients with any negative reaction to the tape at all, generally a mild skin irritation. That being said, kinesiotape is an excellent choice for the following applications:
- Neck and back injuries
- Shoulder injuries
- Knee injuries
- Sprained ankles
- Joint swelling
- Muscle tightness
- Joint stiffness
- Point tenderness
- Trigger points
The tape can be left in place for up to 10 days. You can shower and swim with it. Just be sure not to rub it dry as it may rub off the tape. Occasionally, some residual adhesive may remain on the skin when the tape is removed. Baby oil is a simple solution to remove any residual. You may experience some itching with the tape but my experience has been it is more due to improved circulation than any allergic reaction. Again, negative reactions to the tape are extremely rare.
Before kinesiotaping, I would recommend a thorough evaluation by a healthcare provider who works extensively with musculoskeletal conditions and injuries, to rule out serious issues that may require more intensive intervention. This is especially important in conditions that don’t improve or are worsening, pain that does not respond to kinesiotaping or medication, pain at night, or excruciating pain. Kinesiotaping is not intended to substitute for evaluation or adequate rehabilitative care for a serious injury.
Kinesiotaping is safe for most adults and children, including the elderly. In my office, I’ve used it effectively on kids with sprained ankles and seniors with knee swelling. It’s also excellent for tightness in the shoulders and low back pain. To be most effective, it does take some training to apply properly. There is a bit of an art-form to the taping procedure. I would recommend working with a healthcare provider who has the expertise and training to properly apply the tape for therapeutic benefit.
If you are an athlete, have a regular workout, suffer from chronic pain, or have recently had a sprain type injury, kinesiotaping may be an excellent way to help manage your condition and accelerate your recovery. Talk to your healthcare provider today about getting taped!