Have you ever looked at a rugby player running down the pitch, or sprinter in the 100m covered in colourful and often beautifully applied tape and wondered how on earth that could be helping them? Well, you are not the first person, and you definitely shall not be the last. That all being said, I am about to answer the key questions you may be thinking about KT tape. I shall specifically use the shoulder as an example of how and where you can apply it.
What is kinesiology tape?
Kinesiology tape, KT tape, K-tape are all words and phrases used interchangeably for this sticky fabric that claims to support joints, reduce injuries and pain. Kinesio tape is made up of a blend of cotton and nylon. It’s designed to mimic the skin’s elasticity so you can use your full range of motion whilst it is applied. The tape is also water-resistant and strong enough to stay on for 3 to 5 days (sometimes longer), even while you go to the gym, sweat or take showers. When the tape is applied to your skin, there is an applied tension on the tape which in turn recoils slightly, gently lifting your skin. This is where the physiological foundation for joint support, reduction of pain and decreased swelling comes from.
Where did kinesiology tape come from?
KT tape has been used for many decades, invented by Kenzo Kase in the late 1970s who wanted to create a tape that supported the joints but didn’t inhibit movement the way in which most standard tapes did.
When did kinesiology tape start being used?
KT tape has been used since its invention in the 1970s but it really started to become popular at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and then shot to fame when it was used throughout the London 2012 Olympics, in almost every sport! Rumours have it that Kenzo Kase donated 6,000 metres of the tape to the London Olympics Committee.
Does KT Tape work?
Is Kinesio Tape just for show, and is one big hype?
So the positive news is that KT tape actually has some use, and isn’t entirely for illustration purposes! Evidence shows a pain relieving quality, whether that is placebo or otherwise – but to us that is not necessarily important. I know taping is often completely dependent on personal preference, but at the very least we can agree it is relatively cheap, safe, and easy to use! The conclusion on the science behind KT tape would be that it largely comes down on no. Scientifically, it does not stand up.
However, from a user point of view, there are many user benefits that make many an evidence-based Physiotherapist consider KT tape and then use it, despite the science being clear there is no backing to it! Why? Because there are consistent findings of a perceived confidence boost, as well as a reduction in pain during activity.
How does KT Tape work?
So how is KT tape supposed to work? In short, it uses the tension applied by the health professional or user to the tape to provide a stability factor, as well as activating the sensory aspect of the skin through this tension.
KT tape also claims that it works through these 4 channels;
Influences pain via peripheral neuromodulation
- KT tape changes the pain interpretation by the brain due to a new, continuous sensation on the skin.
Improve proprioceptive feedback
- KT tape helps the brain know where limb positions are due to more skin contact points created by the tape.
Enhance joint sensorimotor control
- The KT tape provides tension around the joint giving a perceived increased level of control.
Restore adequate muscle function
- Now this one I am not able to interpret for you… It claims to do some voodoo magic and move muscles into ‘proper positioning’ is not something I can translate…!
With Physiotherapists being evidence-based by nature, it is a significant challenge to get on board with the scientific point of view when so many studies compare tape use to a sham/control and find no significant difference. However, from a purely user point of view – “if it helps, it helps!” – whether it is placebo, mental imagery or other, if it reduces pain levels, helps increase performance and it is legal… why wouldn’t we use it, and encourage its use? All that to say, from empirical experience there is a 50:50 divide between my patients between love & apathy for KT tape.
To round up, if you have pain in your shoulder, or elsewhere, using KT tape would most definitely be worth a try in my opinion. It should also be stated that this should always be used in combination with a tailored rehab programme to get your shoulders back healthy and doing the things you love!
If you have an injury, and not sure where to begin, book in for a free Physio consultation with me.
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