What is that brightly colored tape we keep seeing at every sporting event? This is a question I get asked at least twice a week. This tape is called Kinesiology tape. It is a noninvasive form of prolotherapy used by athletic trainers and doctors to aid the functional health of an athlete’s injury or repetitive-use, overuse injury.
Kinesiology tape offers structural or muscle support and can correct postural problems, increase blood flow, and aid lymphatic drainage.
The tape predominantly works in a few key ways: Kinesiology tape offers structural or muscle support and can correct postural problems, increase blood flow, and aid lymphatic drainage. When the tape is applied correctly, it achieves the last of these effects by lifting on the skin to create a small area of lower pressure space between the muscle and dermal layers. That space takes the pressure off swelling or injured muscles, allows smooth muscle movement, and makes space for drainage and blood flow.
So what kind of tape do I use in my office? I predominately use Rock Tape, Kinesio tape, and Spider Tech. Note: Kinesio tape is not the same as KT tape that you may buy at local sporting good stores.
We use each of these tapes on various patients and injuries. I like Rock Tape for a few very important reasons. First, the tape seems to have the best adhesive on most patients. Rock Tape also has a waterproof tape for anyone who will be in and out of the water or is a profuse sweater. Secondly, Rock Tape can be purchased in a few different sizes/thicknesses. This is helpful to many practitioners, as patients and injuries come through our doors in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the two-inch tape just does not cover a hamstring muscle or quadricep adequately, and the thicker Rock Tapes gets the job done. Lastly, Rock Tape offers way a wide variety of colors and patterns to choose from, which seems to be important to many high school and college students and athletes.
Occasionally, I use Kinesio tape because it seems to pull a little better than the Rock Tape. This seems particularly true when taping an area that has numerous muscles involved—for instance, a forearm strain. I will use the Kinesio because it seems to manipulate better and slightly more comfortably. Please remember, KT tape is not Kinesio tape! This is a common misconception. Some who buy KT tape instead of Kinesio tape are disappointed when they go to use it.
The third kind of tape I use is Spider Tech. Spider Tech tape is terrific on the fly or when in a hurry, precisely because it comes in precut and ready strips. For example, if on the sideline of game and the player needs to get back in as soon as possible, Spider Tech tape is terrific. However, if I have adequate time to tape the athletes, I will cut my own strips and customize the application for the athlete. This will ensure the taping is most effective and protecting the exact areas that need it most. Too often, pre-cut tape is being worn places on the body that the tape was not necessarily designed for, which often complicates the proper tape stretch and tape direction.
Here are a few examples of where I use kinesiology tape and for what purpose. This is not intended to be a how-to guide.
Hamstring strain/sprain/tear: If a patient has a hamstring strain/sprain, I tape the muscle at the origin and insertion and use a 20-30 percent pull on the tape, being careful that I have the painful area adequately taped. I then will use another piece horizontally at the sight of the injury with about 50-60 percent pull on the tape only in the middle. My intention is to help with inflammation and support the structures that are painful to the patient. I am not trying to brace the injury or compress it in any way.
If a patient comes in with visible bruising and I have already checked for a more serious injury, I will tape the bruised area with small strips, pulling toward the body’s natural lymph flow. This tends to help the body flush the bruising away in a fraction of the normal time.
I use Kinesiology tape on patients who have had recent surgeries. Sometimes a patient will have swelling around a surgical site and compression is not an option for them. I will get consent from their medical doctor and tape the structures around the surgical site to allow better blood flow and help flush the excess fluid away. This technique is very similar to the bruising technique by utilizing the lymph flow.
For overuse repetitive use injuries, I will tape the structure that is being affected the most first. That is not always the muscle that hurts the most. I have to analyze the injury and take the inflammation off the structure that is causing the problem and possible other compensation around the injury. After we are successful in treating the cause, we can now look at other painful sites. At this point, we start talking biomechanics…and that’s a whole other article.
There are many other uses for Kinesiology tape, but these are the few that I use in my office the most and tend to be more of the unique applications rather than just taping a calf or It-band.