From Olympic athletes to the casual runner in a local 5K to competitive tennis players, you’ll find brightly colored Kinesio tape (KT) stretched on legs, backs and even forearms. According to KTTape.com, KT tape is “an elastic sports tape designed to relieve pain while supporting muscles, tendons and ligaments.” The tape is supposed to lift your skin to reduce pressure on your fascia (tissue) and let your lymphatic fluid flush out the waste. The website claims that when the lymphatic fluid can move through instead of accumulating in your muscles and tissues, your body can heal more easily because inflammation and swelling are reduced.
This tape dates back to the 1970s and was created by a Japanese chiropractor and acupuncturist named Kenzo Kase. While regular elastic tape is designed to stop a joint from moving, KT tape should not restrict your movement.
That being said, a review of the studies of KT tape in 2012 showed there was little evidence that KT tape was any more effective than any other elastic tape — but it may play a “small beneficial role in improving strength” and range of motion when compared to other tapes.
We spoke to Dr. Heather North, owner of Red Hammer Rehab and co-founder of Revolution Running in Boulder, Colorado, to get a professional opinion on the product. She said the “research on KT tape only states that it may change the way the sensation input/output changes with our tissue because of the tape contacting our skin. This change can alter our awareness and also change our perception of pain, thus lowering it.”
“This is much like sticking a piece of tape on your cat’s back,” North explains. “She knows it’s there and it changes the way she feels and moves around. The perception is that KT tape supports tissue, pulls fascia skin away from fascia, etc., but there is literally no research to support this. Best case scenario is that the tape helps from a placebo standpoint or with very very little actual help with the above.”
A more recent study in 2015 blindfolded participants and researchers told them they were using KT tape, no matter what kind of tape they used. The results showed that there was no significant difference in muscle performance among the KT tape, regular elastic tape or no tape. The researchers concluded any reported effects maybe be attributed to a placebo effect.
MY ANECDOTAL EXPERIMENT
I started thinking about this about a month ago when I was running the three-day TransRockies Run in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The first day was fine, but after the climbing and descending on the second day, my IT band was not happy. I tried massage and compression leg sleeves, but nothing seemed to be helping. I was getting worried that I wasn’t going to be able to start the next day — I couldn’t even walk a few steps without pain. As a last-ditch effort, I thought I’d head to the PT tent in the morning and get it taped. After all, it couldn’t hurt, right?
It may sound like a cliché, but my IT band really did feel better. I finished the day (24.5 miles) barely feeling my IT band at all. I wasn’t even aware of it, and I actually forgot it had been bothering me. But I wondered how a piece of tape pulling on my skin could possibly have an effect on a large muscle like the IT band.
According to North, the “bottom line is that it changes our proprioception and sensation thus altering our awareness of our discomfort. So for larger muscles, you could extrapolate that with more tape contact with the skin for these larger muscles you will have a bigger sensory effect.”
So, placebo effect or not, this brings up one final question – does it matter? If KT tape alters our awareness of discomfort to the point that we don’t notice or favor the injury, doesn’t that mean it’s working? I can’t say for sure whether the lack of pain was in my head or was actually from the KT tape job, but I know that at the end of the day, I crossed the finish line.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN