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Does Kinesio tape really work?

Does Kinesio tape work? Photo by Maria Ly, Creative Commons

If you’ve run or spectated a race in recent years, you’ve likely noticed the fluorescent strips taped on some athletes’ legs, knees, ankles, or shoulders.

This special tape is called Kinesio tape (you may hear it referred to as “KT tape” but that’s just one brand) and it is used for medical reasons. Developed by Japanese chiropractor Kenzo Kase in the 1970’s, the tape gained popularity after the 2008 Olympics when U.S. volleyball player Kerri Walsh famously wore black KT tape on her shoulder during competition (Walsh was recovering from rotator cuff surgery). Kinesio tape is said to ease pain, reduce inflammation, support muscles, and boost athletic performance.

Too good to be true?
If these claims seem too good to be true, it’s because they may be. While Kinesio tape is a top seller at race expos, the scientific evidence for its effectiveness is lacking.

In 2012, a study was done to examine the effectiveness of Kinesio tape. The research analyzed the results from 10 scientific studies that used Kinesio taping to treat or prevent athletic injuries. What the authors found was surprising:

  • There was no scientific evidence that Kinesio tape alleviates pain.
  • There may be a small improvement in strength and range of motion with Kinesio tape, but results were inconsistent across studies.
  • Kinesio tape was found to have a significant effect on muscle activity, but scientists couldn’t conclude if the effect was beneficial or harmful.

The authors concluded that there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to support the use of Kinesio taping over other types of elastic taping to treat or prevent sports injuries. Basically, more research is needed before anyone can say for sure if Kinesio taping truly works or not.

Along the same lines, some doctors are skeptical about the tape’s claims because it’s only worn on the surface of the skin. The muscles we use for running go deep into the body, so it’d be a tall order for Kinesio tape to have a dramatic effect on those muscles.

Potential benefits
Still, other experts argue that Kinesio taping lives up to the hype because they’ve seen results when using the tape on their patients. Many physical therapists say that Kinesio tape increases blood flow, improves circulation, and takes pressure off certain muscles – which could result in less pain.

Another reason Kinesio taping may work better for athletes than traditional athletic taping is because the tape moves with you. It’s so elastic that you may not even feel it when you’re working out, so it’s less likely to bother you.

The placebo effect?
Even though the research isn’t there to back the supposed benefits of Kinesio tape, plenty of runners and other athletes wear it and swear by it. However, other runners say that they don’t notice a difference when running with the tape versus running without it.

Why the discrepancy? It may come down to the placebo effect. If you believe using Kinesio tape makes you a better runner, then maybe it does. And, really, that’s all that matters.

Do you use Kinesio tape? I’ve been wearing KT tape for tendonitis lately and it hasn’t taken any pain away, but my foot feels more supported when I wear the tape.

Written by Jen Matz / Photo by Maria Ly, Creative Commons