Kinesio Tape- Taping Your Head?


Healthy Living – January 17, 2016
JP Stowe, ATC, CSCS – Eastern Maine Medical Center
100_3274.JPGIf you’ve watched the Olympics, you’ve certainly seen it: the oddly shaped and colorful tape appearing on all parts of the human body. It’s called Kinesio tape or KT tape. It was developed in Japan by Dr. Kenzo Kase in 1973. And it’s not just tape, it’s a technique
Kinesio tape is a thin tape designed to approximate the thickness of skin. It is very elastic and has an acrylic adhesive. Specifically, it is designed to not restrict the motion of joints. You can also wear it for several days at a time. It has been used for almost every musculoskeletal malady known: knee osteoarthritis, ankle instability, lower back pain, shoulder pain, elbow tendonitis, and more.
How does it work?
Dr. Kase has proposed four different mechanisms for how Kinesio tape works:  muscle support, joint support, circulation improvement, and pain relief.  More recently, some individuals have suggested that Kinesio tape also helps to reduce injury by improving the sense of proprioception. This is the sense that helps your body know where the limbs are positioned.
The effect of Kinesio tape is dependent on its application. It’s a very stretchy tape and the amount of tension on application can dictate its effect. Also, the direction of application can determine how the various tissues are being supported. That’s why you see crazy spider designs, wave designs, and asterisk designs.
The most frequently cited mechanism for effectiveness of Kinesio tape is in circulation improvement and swelling reduction. It is thought that this happens by lifting the skin up and away from the vessels of the body, thus creating an easier environment for blood to flow and swelling to drain.
Another mechanism is through activation of the body’s own pain relieving mechanisms.  Again, this is thought to occur by a similar mechanism as improving circulation. By lifting the skin away from nerve endings, the compression of the skin against the nerves is reduced, thereby reducing pain.
A third mechanism is improving muscle strength. This occurs via the stretch applied to the tape that creates tension in the skin. In turn, this improves nerve function and communication that results in increased muscle recruitment and ultimately more strength.
Will it work?
Well, yes and no. The first thing we need to do is look at the research that has been accomplished on it. There has been a fair amount of investigation into whether Kinesio tape is effective. In fact, there have been so many studies that we can now use a research technique called meta-analysis to combine all the individual studies into one big study. The most recent meta-analyses have been performed in 2015 and 2014. Both studies have found no effect of Kinesio tape compared to placebo. In less scientific language, the authors of a review article in the Journal of Physiotherapy wrote, “all available evidence from five different systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials is very consistent: Kinesio taping just does not work.”
But, these researchers went even further to say, “clinicians and Kinesio taping instructors should be more open to the existing evidence and should acknowledge that this intervention is not as good as it is claimed to be.” While we might be used to this language in politics, this level of damnation in scientific discourse is quite unusual.
So, if it doesn’t work, why bother? In this day and age of doping scandals, taping is a drug-free, risk-free intervention that could theoretically help.  And therein lies the benefit. Theoretically help.  For any type of athlete, just thinking something can help really may benefit you. Really, it’s that whole placebo effect.
So, as Jim Thornton, president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association famously exclaimed, “we call that taping your head.”
  1. Williams, Sean, Chris Whatman, Patria A. Hume, and Kelly Sheerin. "Kinesio Taping in Treatment and Prevention of Sports Injuries." Sports Medicine 42.2 (2012): 153-64. Web.
  2. Parreira, Patrícia Do Carmo Silva, Lucíola Da Cunha Menezes Costa, Luiz Carlos Hespanhol Junior, Alexandre Dias Lopes, and Leonardo Oliveira Pena Costa. "Current Evidence Does Not Support the Use of Kinesio Taping in Clinical Practice: A Systematic Review." Journal of Physiotherapy 60.1 (2014): 31-39. Web.