Today's #MondaysWithMelissa question comes all the way from the United Kingdom, and my twitter BFF Graham. He wanted to know "what's the deal with K-Tape?" Does it work? Is it worth the trip to the doctor or physical therapist to get all taped up?
My answer: NO. Here's why, with a little help from my friends over at that little publication you may have heard of, the New York Times:
Does kinesiology tape really work? Does it alleviate pain and injury while you exercise? And if so how does it work?
Most of us first noticed colored kinesiology tape during the Summer Olympics, when beach volleyball players and other athletes sported black, pink or blue strips of it on their shoulders and legs. Made of a thin, light and stretchy fabric, it supposedly improves athletic performance and reduces the risk of injury better than traditional white athletic tape by amplifying proprioception, which is your sense of where your limbs are positioned. Enthusiasts also believe that kinesiology tape speeds healing by slightly lifting skin away from sore or injured tissues, improving blood flow and lymphatic drainage, and that it supports injured joints and muscles without impeding their range of motion.
But these purported benefits are largely unsubstantiated. “There is no solid, independent scientific evidence that kinesio tape does what it is supposed to do,” said Jim Thornton, the president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the head trainer at Clarion University in Pennsylvania. “It is possible that it has health benefits” like improving muscle flexibility and reducing pain, he added, “but we just don’t know yet.”
A recent comprehensive review of relevant studies confirms that view, concluding that today’s science does not show that kinesiology tape is preferable in any way to plain athletic tape for the management or prevention of sports injuries.
On the other hand, kinesiology tape may have a robust placebo effect. In an interesting experiment published in February, blindfolded volunteers were told that they had kinesiology tape on their legs during weight training exercises when, in some sessions, the tape was merely a sticky fabric. The blindfolded volunteers performed the same during the exercises, whether or not they were wearing real tape, suggesting, according to the study’s authors, that when benefits do occur with the use of the tape, they should “be attributed to the placebo effect.”
“We call that taping your head,” Mr. Thornton said.
Still, in one respect, vibrantly hued kinesiology tape easily surpasses its white counterpart. “It’s prettier,” he said.
My friends over at Runners Connect also have some thoughts:
Summing up the research
So, is kinesiology tape a miracle cure? Probably not. But despite that, there is some evidence that it can have a modest effect on reducing pain and improving range of motion in injured athletes.
While the standard of evidence to which I hold most injury treatment methods is higher than what’s out there for kinesiology tape, its simplicity, ease of use, and virtually nonexistent side effects offset the rather limited evidence in its favor.
- Unlike traditional taping, which has a nasty tendency to bunch up, cause blisters, and interfere with other treatments, you can stretch, ice, swim, shower, foam roll, or massage right over an application of kinesiology tape since it’s so thin and flexible.
- And, unlike regular athletic tape, which is really only useful in taping arches in runners, kinesiology tape is pretty easy to apply to any part of the body.
- It is also not too expensive and stays on for several days.
You should never see any kind of brace or taping as a replacement for treatments that address the root cause of injuries, but kinesiology tapes have their place as an ancillary treatment that might take a bit of strain off a sore area or speed recovery from a minor injury.
I’m looking forward to better studies to more rigorously investigate how tactile stimulation of the skin is related to joint motion and injuries, but until then, you might find this stretchy tape to be useful once in a while—though if you skip out on it, you likely aren’t missing much.