Today, you can find more than 50 brands of kinesiology tape in the market. But the original product, Kinesio tape or Kinesio Tex Tape, was developed way back in the 1970s by Dr. Kenzo Kase. A Japanese chiropractor looking for a tape that provided support did not limit movement the way traditional athletic tapes do.
If you have watched a competitive bicycle race or volleyball game, you probably might have seen it. These strips of colorful tape spread out in patterns across knees, shoulders, backs, and abs.
Those are kinesiology tape – a therapeutic tape that is applied strategically to your body to provide support, reduce swelling, lessen pain, and improve performance. Enthusiasts report the success story of these tapes extensively used in physiotherapy treatment. But there needs to be more research to clarify what kinesiology taping can and cannot do.
Discussed below are how physical and sports therapists use it, its benefits, tips, and what to know about these tapes.
What is Kinesio Tape or Kinesiology Taping Therapy?
These are elastic therapeutic tapes, called kinesiology tape, kinesio tape, or K-tape. It is a rehabilitative method that facilitates your body’s natural healing process.
These tapes provide support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting your body’s range of motion. Kinesio tape is usually used extensively by physiotherapists to change muscle tone, correct movement patterns, move lymphatic fluids, and improve posture.
K-tape is a therapeutic tape that is applied to your body to reduce swelling, pain relief, and improve functionality. The process actually involves placing strips of kinesio tape on your body in specific directions for therapeutic purposes.
How Does Kinesio Tape or Kinesiology Taping Work?
Kinesiology tape is water-resistant adhesive, stretchable, made of nylon and cotton both. Imagine it like an elastic-like skin that allows a full range of motion.
When applied, the tape lifts your skin gently by recoiling. This process helps in creating a microscopic space between your skin and the underneath tissues.
The tissues under your skin contain sensory receptors that respond to feel, light touch, pain, and temperature, also responsible for sensing proprioception.
Kinesio tape helps in decompressing these tissues, thus sending new signals to your brain. When your brain receives these signals, it responds differently.
Kinesio tapes are a blend of cotton and nylon. The tape design mimics your skin’s elasticity allowing you to use your full range of motion. The tape’s medical-grade adhesive design is such that it sticks on to your skin firmly as it is water-resistant and strong enough to stick on even for five days. Even while you work out or take showers.
1 Kinesio Tape Creates Space in Joints
One small study showed that the application of kinesio tape over the knee increases the space in between the knee joint. A similar study proved that kinesio tape increased the space in the shoulder joint. The studies state that even though the increase in space is slight – it helps reduce your chances of joint irritation.
2 Kinesio Tape Change Signals on Pain Pathways
Some physical therapists believe that the tape changes the information your sensory nervous system is sending about compression and pain in different parts of the body.
But Dr. Megann Schooley, a board-certified clinical specialist in sports physical therapy, has a different explanation. All of your tissues like the skin, connective tissue, fascia, muscles contain sensory receptors that feel pain, touch, and temperature. Those receptors all contribute to proprioception, which is your brain’s sense of where your body is and what it’s doing.
Kinesio taping creates a lift of your skin that unloads these underlying tissues. These decompressed tissues can change the signals going to your brain. When your brain receives a different set of signals, it responds differently.
Trigger points are a good example. Physical therapists use kinesio tapes to lift your skin over these tense, knotted muscles. When the treated area decompresses, your pain receptors send a new signal to your brain, and as a result, the tension in the trigger point decreases.
3 Kinesio Tape Improve Circulation of Blood and Fluids
If injured, kinesio tape might help improve circulation in the area and reduce swelling. A 2017 study showed that tape could improve blood flow in the skin. It can also improve the circulation of lymphatic fluids.
Lymphatic fluid is significant water, but it also contains other substances like bacteria, proteins, and other chemicals. The lymphatic system is responsible for regulating swelling and fluid buildup in your body.
The theory behind – when kinesio tape is applied, it creates extra subcutaneous space. Thus changing the pressure gradient in the area underneath your skin. That change in pressure enhances the lymphatic drainage around the area. By changing the flow of lymphatic fluid, your bruises can heal faster.
What is Kinesio Tape Used For?
1 Treating injuries
Your physical therapists might sometimes use kinesiology tape as part of an overall treatment plan, significantly if you are injured. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, kinesio tape is most effective when used in conjunction with other treatments like manual therapy.
2 Supporting weak zones
You can also use the tape to add extra support to your muscles or joints that need it. If you have IT band friction syndrome, patellofemoral stress syndrome, or Achilles tendonitis, kinesio tape might be helpful.
Unlike athletic tape, kinesiology tape lets you move normally. In fact, studies show that it can enhance your movement and endurance. According to studies on athletes – kinesiology tape used on fatigued muscles, their performance improves.
3 Enhancing performance
Interestingly, some athletes use kinesiology taping to help them achieve peak performance and protect against injury when they compete in mega-events. Even runners use this tape extensively every time they run a marathon. They even place the tape along the glute to ‘wake up’ the muscle and remind it to keep working.
4 Re-educating muscles
You can use the tape to help retrain muscles that have lost function or those muscles that have gotten used to an unhealthy way of working. The kinesio taping method can correct posture in your neck and head. According to a 2017 study, it can help stroke patients improve the way they walk.
Physical therapists believe this may be because – the strange sensation of tape on your skin can make you more aware of how you are moving or standing.
5 Managing scars
Remember not to use the tape on an open wound. There is some scientific evidence to suggest that kinesiology tape used in physiotherapy can improve your long-term appearance of scars. It is most effective when used after injury or surgery. Discuss this treatment plan with your doctor.
Types of Kinesio Tape
You can apply K-Tape in the shape of an “X”,”Y”, “I”, “Fan”, “Web” or “Donut”. Depending upon the shape and size of the affected muscle and the result to be achieved, you can decide the shape of the tape.
“Y” Tape application is generally used to
- The tape should be 2 inches longer than the target muscle.
- Should surround the target muscle.
- Inhibit or facilitate muscle stimuli.
“I” Tape application is often used for
- Edema and pain (Primary purpose)
- When you have acute injuries, use “Y” tape.
- Used for alignment corrections.
“X” Tape application is used when
- The origin and the intersection of the target muscle change depending on movement, for example, the Rhomboids.
“Fan” /”web” Tape
“Fan” /”web” tape application is used for
- · Edema (Web is different because the ends remain intact).
“Donut” tape is used for:
- Edema – use overlapping strips, and the center is cut out over the area of focus
When Not to Use Kinesio Tape
There are some cases in which the tape should not be used. They include the following.
- Diabetes. If some areas in your body have reduced sensation, avoid using the tape. As you might not notice a reaction to the tape.
- Open wounds. If you use tape over an open wound, it could lead to infection or skin damage.
- Deep vein thrombosis. If you have increased fluid flow, it could cause a blood clot to move, which might be fatal.
- Allergy. In case your skin is sensitive to adhesives, it could trigger a strong reaction.
- Active cancer. Increased blood supply to cancerous growth could prove to be dangerous.
- Lymph node removal. Increasing fluid where a node is missing could cause swelling.
- Fragile skin. If your skin is prone to tearing, you should avoid putting the tape on your skin.
Learn more about Neuromuscular Therapy here.
How to Apply Kinesio Tape?
To apply, remember these steps:
- Dry and clean the area first, as lotions and oils can prevent the tape from sticking.
- Trim away excess hair. Fine hair should be fine, but dense hair could keep the tape from getting a good grip.
- For most treatments, you should start by tearing the backing paper in the center.
- You can cut rounded corners at the ends of each strip if they do not have them. The rounded corners will not get snagged against clothing, and helps to keep the tape on for long.
- When you apply the first tab, let the end recoil slightly after taking off the backing paper. There should not be any stretch in the last two inches at either end. If you stretch the ends, the tape, in turn will pull your skin, which could irritate your skin.
- Keep your fingers on the packing paper to hold the tape instead of the adhesive part.
- Your therapist can be the right person to say how much stretch to use in the treatment area.
- After you apply the tape, vigorously rub the strip. The heat will activate the glue. Full adhesion will usually take 20 minutes.
How to Safely Remove Kinesio Tape
If you wear the tape longer than a few days, it might begin to loosen on its own. Here are some tips on how to tape off without hurting.
- Apply some oil like olive oil or baby oil, or lotion on top of the tape to loosen the strip.
- Remove it by pulling slowly. Do not yank and do not pull up.
- After nudging up against one end, press down on your skin to separate it from the tape.
- Pull the tape back instead of straight-up away. Keep compressing your skin gently while pulling the tape back.
- Walk your fingers slowly along your skin as you go.
- If your skin is damaged or irritated, do not reapply the tape. Instead, talk to your physical therapist or doctor.