The Sticky Truth Behind Kinesio Tape

Kinesio tape, that colourful elastic athletic tape, has been used for over a decade in the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries. It probably became most popular after the 2008 Olympics, where it was donated to team therapists, which resulted in almost every athlete using it. The majority of the people who have used this tape LOVE it! However, the research on the effectiveness of the tape isn’t so wonderful. There have been hundreds of research studies done on kinesio tape, so we’ll examine some of the more recent systematic reviews that outline what exactly the tape has been proven to achieve.

How the tape works

Kinesio tape is different from regular white athletic tape because it is flexible and 20160217_141404allows for full range of motion, (and it looks a lot cooler). Below are the main functions of kinesio tape:

  • Decrease pain;
  • Improve range of motion;
  • Increase proprioception;
  • Correct joint alignment;
  • Improve swelling and lymphatic drainage;
  • Facilitate or inhibit muscles

In order to achieve any of the desired effects above, the tape MUST be properly applied, including the direction of pull of the tape and the amount of tension applied.

What does the research say?

  • Overall, most studies show that kinesio taping for pain reduction, function and proprioception is better than no treatment, yet it is no better or worse than other traditional treatment options (Choon Wyn Lim et al., 2015)
  • Good support for reduction of pain in individuals with musculoskeletal injuries, (Montalvo et al., 2014)
  • Some support that it may improve painfree range of motion (Taylor et al., 2014).
  • Some support that it may help correct alignment i.e., patellar tracking (Barton et al., 2013).
  • Inconclusive support for improved swelling and lymphatic drainage (Kalron et al., 2013).
  • No support for the facilitation of muscle strength. A review of 19 studies that examined if kinesio tape increases muscle strength or facilitates muscle contraction showed no difference compared to a control group (Csapo et al., 2015).
  • A lot of the research discusses a potential placebo effect to help explain the benefits of kinesio tape

Take home message:

Kinesio tape is inexpensive, noninvasive, and has little to no side effects (there is a potential for skin irritation). Therefore, it is a safe and effective treatment option for pain relief, improvement in range of motion and correction of joint alignment. Future research may show beneficial effects on swelling, lymphatic drainage and facilitation of muscles.

References:

Choon Wyn Lim et al. (2015). Kinesio taping in musculoskeletal pain and disability that lasts for more than 4 weeks: Is it time to peel off the tape and throw it out with the sweat? A systematic review with meta-analysis focused on pain and also methods of tape application. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 

Montalvo, E. Cara and G. Myer. Effect of kinesiology taping on pain in individuals with musculoskeletal injuries: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Physician and Sports Medicine.  2014. Vol 42. Issue 2. P. 48-52.

Taylor et al. (2014). A Scoping Review of the use of Elastic Therapeutic Tape for Neck and Upper Extremity Conditions. Journal of Hand Therapy.

Barton, et al. (2014). Patellar taping for patellofemoral pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate clinical outcomes and biomechanical mechanisms. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(6), 417-424.

Kalron and S. Bar-Sela. A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Kinesio Taping-Fact or Fasion? European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine. 2013. Vol. 49. Issue 5. P. 699-709.

Csapo et al. (2015). Effects of Kinesio taping on skeletal muscle strength – a meta-analysis of current evidence. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 18(4), 450-456.