If you’ve run or spectated a race, odds are you’ve seen a runner pass by with brightly colored tape running up the back of one or both legs. That’s kinesiology tape; more than just an accent to their apparel, that tape provides support to muscles to prevent overtraining or possibly assist in recovery.
We talked to a physical therapist to explain the benefits and general uses of this tape.
There isn’t solid evidence that kinesiology tape actually improves athletic performance of healthy athletes. However, studies have found taping has had measurable therapeutic benefits alongside other physical therapies. It may seem odd that you’d benefit from putting a piece of tape on your skin but it, of course, is no ordinary piece of tape.
“Kinesiology tape is an elastic tape that acts as a therapeutic modality to enhance the function of different tissues and physiological systems in the body,” explains Arielle Prince, DPT, a certified kinesio taping practitioner and physical therapist at Professional Physical Therapy. “The cut of the tape, direction it’s applied to the body and the level of tension put on the tape will determine which therapeutic effect the person will receive.”
Though you may have only seen kinesiology tape on athletes, it can be used for other therapeutic reasons that are not quite as obvious, including general pain management. Prince notes that though kinesiology tape really got its notoriety from sports — whether seen on runners or football players and more — it can be a great supplement to treat other injuries and deficits.
“Kinesiology taping is useful for issues such as edema control, lymphatic drainage, pain relief, postural correction and scar management,” she advises. “It can be used on individuals ranging from pediatrics to athletes to geriatrics and more.”
Before using kinesiology tape, it is important to form a plan with your healthcare practitioner or physical therapist. This is because, as Prince notes, the application of kinesiology tape may not be appropriate for everyone. Additionally, know that kinesiology tape alone won’t cure or prevent injury; it should be used as a part of a well-rounded care plan.
“Its job is to assist the body to perform more optimally and promote homeostasis of the target tissue,” Prince notes. “It’s also important to understand that there are specific ways that the tape needs to be applied to the body to produce a positive therapeutic effect. If applied by someone who is not properly trained, the tape might generate a negative effect or no effect at all.”
With so many types of kinesiology tape on the market — Rock Tape and KT Tape are among the most well-known brands — make sure you know how each differs and works. Prince shares that finding a practitioner certified in the use of kinesiology tape who can properly apply it, or teach you how to properly apply it, is the safest bet in any situation.
Prince adds that common injuries runners often face including plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome and patellar tendonitis, all of which may benefit from the use of kinesiology tape. The tape itself can be used on multiple areas of the body, including the legs, neck and back, but there is no one way to apply the tape. It doesn’t just depend on the area of the body that is affected, but also what specific musculature and tissues are experiencing injury or discomfort.
“There are several different applications of kinesiology tape for each body part depending on the type of response you are looking for,” she explains. “Certain directions of taping will assist an underactive muscle, whereas others will inhibit an overactive muscle.” It’s best to consult with your physical therapist on the best application for you.