Many of us may have seen athletes on the court, the field, or even in the pool sporting large strips of brightly colored tape — not wrapped around the limbs like an elastic support bandage, but placed on the skin, often in long strips on top of the muscles. What’s going on here?
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Called Kinesio tape, Kinesiology tape or elastic therapeutic tape, the elastic cotton strip has an acrylic adhesive on one side. It is used by physical therapists for a variety of reasons, including treating pain from sports injuries and improving athletic performance.
“It’s different than your standard athletic tape, which is used to immobilize a joint,” says sports and medical orthopaedist Dominic King, DO. “Elastic therapeutic taping has the benefit of being stretchy. When you apply it to a joint, it helps to act almost like a rubber band, supporting muscles and tendons, and taking a little stress off the joints. It also can help relieve swelling in certain areas.”
A competitive advantage?
Many people think that using the tape will give them a mechanical advantage in athletic competition, but it often can be more of a perceived effect than a real one, Dr. King says.
Some people report feeling a little more comfortable with the tape, and it seems to give them some added support. Research does show that some people can experience a short-term benefit from using Kinesio tape, Dr. King says.
However, he warns, there is the risk in being over-confident in how well the tape is going to work — and possibly pushing your body a little too hard, Dr. King says.
Kinesio tape for pain
Research suggests that Kinesio tape may help relieve pain for people with chronic musculoskeletal pain — but it’s not any more effective than other treatments, Dr. King says. Additionally, there is no scientific evidence that Kinesio tape can reduce disability in people with chronic pain, he says.
It’s not recommended to use the tape as a first line of defense to treat muscle soreness, but rather as part of a program that includes physical therapy, Dr. King says.
Research has yet to show any long-term benefit from using Kinesio tape, but for the short term — and with the right guidance — it can be useful, Dr. King says.
“For the short term it actually can help with some joints that might be painful, for a couple of hours or maybe for a day; but it doesn’t really have that type of long-term relief, where this is going to be the only thing you’re going to need in order to take away all of your joint pain,” he says.
Kinesio tape will not help you recover faster from an injury either, Dr. King says. Serious sports injuries call for physical therapy by a trained sports therapy professional.
“There’s really no replacement for the neuromuscular education you get through physical therapy,” he says.
It’s best to have Kinesio tape applied by a trained sports therapy professional. Without proper guidance, you could further aggravate your injury, he says.
“Whenever you have muscle soreness — either severe pain during activity or lingering pain after activity — it’s important to see a health care professional to understand the underlying problem that’s causing that symptom,” he says. “That allows the appropriate treatment, and ultimately recovery, to begin.”