Training & Nutrition

Kinesiology Tape: What to Use it for and How it Works

Does kinesio tape actually work or is it just another fad?

Colourful strips of tape are a common sight in the peloton and many amateur athletes have turned to the treatment in recent years.

Kinesiology tape uses strips of stretchy, sticky fabric to support muscles during movement – most common uses are:

> Preventing injury, by supporting muscles

> Enhancing performance

> Treating an existing injury

The treatment was discovered in the 1970s by Japanese chiropractor Dr Kenzo Kase. Dr Kase is behind the leading brand Kenisio Tape, but there are now a number of brands such as “Rock Tape” and “More Mile” that provide a similar solution.

Despite widespread use, the treatment is surrounded by a fair amount of cynicism. A 2013 study by researchers A. Kalron and S. Bar-Sela concluded: “There is no firm evidence-based conclusion of the effectiveness of this application.”

They stated more research was needed but did find in 3 of 6 cases patients using Kinesio tape “reduction of pain was superior to that of the comparison group”.

Anecdotal Evidence

Despite lack of scientific evidence, athletes and practitioners have provided anecdotal evidence that supports use. Registered osteopath Jill Shooter told me: “I use Kinesiology in my practice because, in my opinion, it works! Time after time, my patients report a reduction in pain, often there is often a visible reduction in swelling and inflammation.”

She added:  “I prefer Kinesio taping over more traditional taping methods, because it allows natural movement, supporting the taped muscles and joints, whilst the wearer remains active, even over several days. It can be used in most parts of the body and is tolerated by almost everyone.  It is water and sweat resistant, so can be worn during exercise, even by swimmers and in the shower.’

There are multiple explanations for how Kinesio-tape works – some state it lifts the skin away from muscle, allowing blood and fluids to flow more easily, promoting healing.

I had Kinesio-tape applied last time I had an accident involving a sheet of black ice and skinny tyres – the tape was applied to the bruise, lifting skin away and allowing blood to train – I was pretty impressed with the results – the entire bruise faded quickly, and noticeably so in the areas under the tape.

Correcting Movement

Another explanation is that the tape supports muscles, addressing incorrect movement, which causes pain and injury. Unlike traditional taping, which straps up an injured muscle to prevent further injury, Kinesio-tape tells the muscles, and connective fibres called ‘fascia’, how to work, and encourages the athlete to move.

Peta McSharry trained at the London School of Sports Massage (LSSM) and is a founding Member of the Fascial Research Institute. She offers Kinesio taping from her clinic Sports Massage Zone and explained that she uses the tape to encourage the brain to promote correct movement when the body is not working as it should.

Peta, who taped her knees to allow her to ride the entire men’s 2011 Giro D’Italia for charity, after an incorrect cleat position caused pain, explained:  “If you imagine your skin is a sock layer over your body, just below that is another layer called the profundus – this is enriched with information sensors. This is the layer of tissue the Kinesio tape influences.”

She went on to explain: “By moving the profundus in different directions, signals packaged up to the brain via the spine can be altered changing the commands the brain then sends to the muscle. Moving this profundus in two different directions, e.g. either towards or away from a joint can effectively inhibit or enhance muscle activation. If you need a muscle to switch on, for instance, to pull your kneecap more centrally and allow it to track correctly, Kinesio tape can be applied in a specific direction to get a stronger signal from the brain to contract that specific muscle. Conversely, an overactive muscle can be inhibited, allowing other muscles the chance to work.”

Apply it Correctly

If you are struggling with an injury or a niggle, it might be worth giving Kinesio tape a go. However, it is important that it is applied correctly.

It is possible to simply buy Kinesio tape online or even off the shelf in some sports shops. However, a person who has studies kinesiology will know which muscles to apply it to, and in what pattern the tape should be applied.

You can learn to tape yourself, but with practice and proper advice – Jill Shooter advised: “Before you start taping, get advice.  Even with a good understanding of muscles, applying the tape incorrectly can do more harm than good.”

Qualified sports injury professionals such as physiotherapists and osteopaths will often use the technology, but not all will – if you’re keen to give it a try it is best to check your physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor believes in the practice and uses it before booking in.

Of course, the best form of treatment is not to get injured in the first place!

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