Kinesio tape | What is it and how does it work?

Question: I’m colourful, sticky and am frequently seen on both competitive athletes and every-day gym-goers.

What am I?

how does kinesio tape work

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!

how does kinesio tape work

Name that tattoo!

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!

how does kinesio tape work

Even my 11-year old daughter’s been taped! Clearly we are a KT family…

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.

how does kinesio tape work

See how the tape starts by cupping my heel and moving up either side of my calf?

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?

 

 

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Comments

  1. I used to have to tape my ankles when I was a teenager due to multiple injuries in soccer. More recently, I had my belly taped while pregnant with baby #2 (last year). It was great….helped with the pain I was having but really hurt taking it off my belly.
    I’d used it if I needed to *fingers crossed* that isn’t any time soon.
    Anna – Piper’s Run recently posted…Monkey Update: Hilary is 11 Months Old!My Profile

    • Anna, I hadn’t heard of KT tape being used in pregnancy, but can see how helpful it would be. I haven’t found it painful to remove, but my daughter sure did. We used a trick that they taught us in the hospital for removing it painlessly; use the fingers of one hand to gently pull the skin away from the tape while the other hand holds the tape tight and away from the body! (My daughter see the cardiologist twice per year and hates the ‘stickies’ from her Echo and ECG)

      • I’ve also heard you can use baby oil or olive oil to easy the pain. My physio taped me up – I was surprised at how much it helped! I don’t think I would like it as a kid either 🙂

    • There’s some excellent clinical applications involving Kinesio Taping for pre- and post-partum women. My wife used it extensively during her pregnancies to stop linea alba separation, support the abdomen and also for low back pain relief. There are also lymphatic drainage applications that can be modified to use with mastitis.
      She’s a physio and a Certified Kinesio Taping Instructor, so has designed some new applications around her personal experiences 🙂

      BTW, if you want some tips on how to remove Kinesio Tape without the pain, take a look at this YouTube video which was from a presentation to a group of physios in Cairns, Australia….
      http://youtu.be/rHtF-AO5uz4

      • Clint, I would be very interested to see how your wife used the K-tape during and after her pregnancy. My baby is 8 months old and I always have my linea alba separation (I can put 2.5 to 3 finger) despite my TRX workouts (3 per week). I was wondering if you think that it could be useful to put some K-tape on abs during the workouts and if so, how should I put them?

        • Mari, I haven’t used K-tape in pregnancy myself, and hope that Clint responds to your question! In the meantime, you could always check on YouTube. I’ve found tons of ‘taping instruction videos’ there!

      • My KT tape never hurts when I rip it off…pain? what?

      • Please explain to me how to use these for mastitis! What placement is best? Horizontal or vertical across lymph? Near the top or bottom of duct? I’m very interested to find out!

        • Heather, I’m sorry. I can’t help you with this. It’s completely outside of my experience. I’d try searching on YouTube. Hope you’re feeling better soon.

  2. YES…we have used it around here and I swear it works!! It has helped my hip feel better, my daughter’s knees feel better and my other daughter’s ankles….weird stuff but we believe it has made a world of difference.
    Kathy recently posted…Talk Money~ No Funny ~ thank God it’s SUNNY!My Profile

    • Yes, it really is strange stuff isn’t is Kathy? Who would have thought? (The first time I saw it I thought it was the streamers that you wrap about bicycle spokes to decorate your bicycle!)

  3. I have used it for Achilles, back, and knee injuries … I was skeptical about it but have a couple of ultra runner friends who swear by it so I though I’d give it a try … I really do feel more supported and stable around an injury when using it, and maybe it does pull things into alignment because i think it helps with pain too. I acknowledge that these can be psychological effects, but i decided that if it works I don’t care!

    There isn’t anyone professionally qualified to apply it around here, so I’ll admit that I watched lots of application videos online and did it myself (I got some help w/the back injury application though). One of the best tips I got was to apply benzoin tincture to the skin you are going to tape – it both helps the tape to stick better/longer and makes it hurt less when you pull it off!

    • Good tip, Lynne. My physiotherapist doesn’t apply anything before the tape, but she’s always careful to wash the area first and remove any lotions so that it sticks better. I’m all for placebo effects too 😉

  4. I’ve totally seen this stuff! I think I just want it though so I can put some fun tape all over my body… Yep. I am kind of weird like that! ha ha ha! Maybe if I put it on my constantly nagging stomach, it will help?!??! lol
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted…Paris Hilton is Jealous of Spaghetti SquashMy Profile

  5. Yes, I have heard of it & seen it & luckily never had to use it! 🙂 I am sorry that friggin Achilles is still bothering you Tamaraa!!! You need a beach vacation where you hang in a hammock looking at the ocean! 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…Protein Banana Nut Bread; YMX LOVE!My Profile

  6. I love KT tape! It was really popular with the derby girls (shoulders and ankles), and I’ve used it since when running to almost literally hold myself together.
    Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table recently posted…Strange But Good: Tofu Jalapeño PoppersMy Profile

  7. GREAT post T! I’m a disciple of Kinesio tape and recently used it on my husband’s ailing back. I used it on my tricep last year and boom – all better. Thanks so much for sharing!
    Suzanne @WorkoutNirvana recently posted…Friday Roundup: Are You Vulnerable or Invincible?My Profile

  8. I LOVE KTape! My PT found in her own practice that taping patients helped them heal over 50% faster! As soon as I start getting an overuse ache, on goes the tape! (though it seldom lasts very long when doing it myself!)

    They DO use the tape for pregnant women with that vertical split in the abdominal wall.
    deb roby recently posted…The Kombucha RitualMy Profile

    • Deb, I didn’t know that it was used for diastasis recti. From what I’ve heard, it’s a very painful condition and taping to prevent further injury during exercise would be a great idea!

  9. This looks very interesting. I wonder if it would help my lower back.
    Barbara recently posted…McNellie’s Pub Run 2013My Profile

    • Did you try it yet Barbara? I’ve seen athletes wearing it across the low back. Might be an option for you too!

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  18. I have also used it on achilles and currently wrap above/below my knee as I have a burst baker’s cyst I am recovering from. The ProX is the only one I can shower/swim with however with not having to re-apply. The “regular” has never stayed on in a swim/triathlon for me so I went to the “pro” tape and it stayed on my full Escaped from Triathlon race (under my wetsuit for the swim and throughout the bike/run in humid conditions). You can go to classes to apply, but I find it’s not rocket science. Eventually my whole body will be held together by KT tape I think….

  19. Great post.

  20. Lilah_blue says:

    I have a herniated disc and my PT applied two strips on my back vertically then i’m starting to have tingling on my toes the following day until today (didn’t have them before), though i don’t have any major pains going on which is weird. We’re thinking that the tape aggravated the injured section?

    • Lilah, I’m sorry to hear this. I can’t, however, comment on what might or might not have happened to you. Best to see your primary care physician in person. Take care!