Question: I’m colourful, sticky and am frequently seen on both competitive athletes and every-day gym-goers.
What am I?
Answer: Kinesio (or KT) tape
I started sporting kinesio tape, earlier this year, after I injured my Achilles tendon.
Despite it’s frequent use by Olympians and professional athletes, many people still have no idea what kinesio tape is and how it works.
Because I tend to match my workout tops to my tape-of-the-day (despite what you may think, living in workout clothes can get a bit boring after awhile…), people often assume it’s a fashion statement. I’ve even been asked what my tattoo is supposed to be of!
Curious about how kinesio taping works? I was too. So I did a bit of research and discovered the following:
What is kinesio tape?
Kinesio tape is a thin, porous cotton fabric, that, when applied to the skin, helps to support the underlying muscle, reduce inflammation, facilitate improved range of motion and correct misalignments caused by chronically tight muscles (tight muscles can trigger injuries including Achilles tendonitis).
It’s sweat-proof and water proof. You can workout and shower with it on. An application typically lasts 3 to 5 days, as long as you’re careful when getting dressed and towelling off after bathing. Once it starts to roll around the edges it tends to get caught on clothing and peel itself off.
It’s best applied by a professional; either a physiotherapist or chiropractor who’s certified in its use. An improper taping job can sometimes make the injury worse. Besides, depending on where you need taping, you may not be able to reach the spot yourself anyways!
Kinesio tape comes in a range of colours (different colours are indicative of different strength tapes; purple is my favourite) and can be purchased at most shops that sell running shoes and exercise clothes. Expect to pay $20 to $30 for a 4 to 5 m roll (although I’ve been told that you can sometimes find deals online if you know where to look).
How does kinesio tape work?
Kinesio tape has three major functions:
- it supports injured muscles. Proper taping improves the muscle’s ability to contract even when it’s been injured, thereby reducing pain and fatigue, and protecting the muscle from cramping, over-extension and over-contraction.
- it improves blood circulation to the injured area and reduces inflammation. Because kinesio tape is applied directly on top of the injured muscle, when you move, the tape, skin and connective tissue move too, pulling slightly away from the muscle and creating space for lymphatic fluid to flow around and cleanse the inflamed tissue.
- it corrects joint problems. Joints are held in place by muscles. When muscles are either weak or chronically tight, joints are pulled out of their natural position. Over time, misaligned joints can result in pain, poor posture and functional inefficiency. Kinesio tape can improve joint problems by ‘re-teaching’ your muscles to
Tape can be applied in one of two directions depending on the nature and location of the injury.
If the muscle is tight and painful (typical of overuse injuries, including mine), the tape is applied with very little tension, starting at the insertion of the muscle (where the tendons hold the muscle to the bone) and extending towards its origin.
If the muscle is weak and the injury is chronic, support through the entire range of motion is necessary and the tape is applied from the muscle’s origin to its insertion. (See how knowing a little bit of anatomy can go a long way?)
Yes, but does kinesio tape actually work?
For me, kinesio taping has helped reduce the pain and stiffness I typically feel in my Achilles upon rising in the morning. It hasn’t ‘cured’ me (sadly, nothing but avoiding the movements that originally caused it is likely to work in the long run), but does help me to be more mindful of my injury when training (and yes, you can continue training while injured; you just need to avoid the exercises that hurt).
According to PubMed, a recently published meta-analysis of the purported benefits of kinesio taping to athletes both injured and healthy concluded:
there was little quality evidence to support the use of KT over other types of elastic taping in the management or prevention of sports injuries. KT may have a small beneficial role in improving strength, range of motion in certain injured cohorts and force sense error compared with other tapes, but further studies are needed to confirm these findings.
However, some of the studies included in the analysis did demonstrate benefits for rehabbing specific injuries, including Achilles tendonitis.
Given that kinesio taping is a relatively inexpensive and painless treatment option, there’s very little harm in giving it a shot. Perhaps it’ll work for you too, or at the very least, you’ll benefit from the placebo effect…
Have you ever tried kinesio tape?
Did it help or hinder your recovery?
As much as I love to write about the treatment of sports injuries, I’m equally passionate about their prevention and would love to share my knowledge and experience with your audience.
If you’d like to hire me to speak to your local running group or sports team about training for injury prevention email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note that unless you’re willing to cover my plane ticket too, speaking engagements are limited to locations within driving distance of Vancouver, Canada)