Have you ever seen someone at the gym with neon-colored tape running every which way on their body and wondered what the heck is going on?
It’s not an ACE bandage like you wore when you sprained your ankle as a kid. It’s something else.
It’s called Kinesiology Tape or KT Tape for short.
In this guide, we’ll give you all the ins and outs of KT Tape and what benefits of kinesiology tape for pulled muscles or soreness that there may (or may not) be.
Let’s start at the top.
What Exactly is Kinesiology Tape?
The original Kinesiology Tape was made of a proprietary combination of cotton fibers interlaced with specialized elastic cores. Newer versions of KT tape are comprised of ultra-durable synthetic fabric that include stronger elastic cores.
It first appeared in the 1970s thanks to the efforts of a Japanese chiropractor named Dr. Kenzo Kase. He developed the tape to provide support for athletes while not restricting movement in the manner that traditional athletic tapes did.
Both the cotton and synthetic versions offer unidirectional elasticity, allowing the athletic tape to stretch lengthwise in one direction, but not widthwise. This point is important as it will impact how you apply the tape (which we’ll discuss later on).
How Does Kinesiology Tape Work?
According to the creators of KT Tape, it helps lift the skin, which decompresses the layers of fascia surrounding a muscle and allows for greater movement of lymphatic fluid over the troublesome area.
Why is this beneficial?
Well, the theory goes that when an area of the body is injured or in a state of overuse, lymphatic fluid accumulates, which causes swelling, inflammation, and pressure on tissues and muscles. The end result is pain and discomfort.
Since KT Tape is proposed to lift the skin and promote greater circulation of lymphatic fluid, more white blood cells move through the injured area removing metabolic waste products.
This theory sounds plausible, but is it backed by any scientific research?
Truth be told, a few studies have shown that KT tape may help reduce chronic musculoskeletal pain compared to other interventions (icing, elevation, etc).
However, while there is some evidence indicating that KT Tape may provide some pain relief, the mechanism by which it works isn’t the same as how it is promoted by kinesiology tape suppliers.
For instance, kinesiology tape is believed to “lift the skin” which theoretically improves circulation. But, studies show that the athletic tape does not lift the skin or enhance circulation.[2,3]
Furthermore, the practice of wrinkling the skin under the kinesiology tape (convolutions) also appears to not enhance circulation or provide additional pain relief compared to non-convolution taping method.[4,5]
Researchers have also investigated whether or not the direction of taping (or pattern the tape is applied) impacts muscle activation. As it turns how, how the tape is applied to the affected muscle does not appear to affect muscle activation.[6,7]
A systematic review of kinesiology taping from 2016 also concluded:
“Taken together, these results suggest that the precise method of taping may not be as critical to improving outcomes as originally thought.”
Does Kinesiology Tape Reduce Joint Pain?
Based on the current body of evidence, it does not appear that kinesiology tape provides any additional benefit to those suffering from swollen or painful joints.
One randomized control trial in athletes found that kinesiology tape was ineffective for reducing swelling due to ankle sprains.
Another study in older individuals with osteoarthritis found that does not improve the symptoms or function of knee osteoarthritis.
The Bottom Line on Kinesiology Tape for Pulled Muscles or Soreness
There is limited evidence to suggest that kinesiology tape may help reduce musculoskeletal pain, but it may not work for everyone. Furthermore, the manner in which kinesiology tape may help reduce pain is not due to reasons promoted by the manufacturers of kinesiology tape.
If you do want to try kinesiology tape, there’s no need to worry about complicated taping patterns or directions. Simply place the tape over the area that hurts with about 25% stretch.
If you don’t notice a reduction in pain, or an improvement in symptoms, it may not be doing much for you.
Finally, if kinesiology tape does work for you, remember that it to be used as an adjunct to other evidence-based treatments, not a replacement
- Lim, E.C. and M.G. Tay, Kinesio taping in musculoskeletal pain and disability that lasts for more than 4 weeks: is it time to peel off the tape and throw it out with the sweat? A systematic review with meta-analysis focused on pain and also methods of tape application.Br J Sports Med, 2015. 49(24): p. 1558-66.
- Lyman, K.J., et al., Investigating the Effectiveness of Kinesio(R) Taping Space Correction Method in Healthy Adults on Patellofemoral Joint and Subcutaneous Space.Int J Sports Phys Ther, 2017. 12(2): p. 250-257.
- Stedge, H.L.K., Ryan M.;Docherty, Carrie L., Kinesio Taping and the Circulation and Endurance Ratio of the Gastrocnemius Muscle.Journal of Athletic Training (Allen Press), 2012. 47(6): p. 635-642.
- Yang JM, Lee JH. Is Kinesio Taping to Generate Skin Convolutions Effective for Increasing Local Blood Circulation?. Med Sci Monit. 2018;24:288–293. Published 2018 Jan 14. doi:10.12659/msm.905708
- Parreira Pdo, C., et al., Kinesio taping to generate skin convolutions is not better than sham taping for people with chronic non-speci fi c low back pain: a randomised trial.J Physiother, 2014. 60(2): p. 90-6.
- Cai, C., et al., Facilitatory and inhibitory effects of Kinesio tape: Fact or fad?J Sci Med Sport, 2016. 19(2): p. 109-12.
- Vercelli, S.S., Francesco;Foti, Calogero;Colletto, Lorenzo;Virton, Domenico;Ronconi, Gianpaolo;Ferniero, Giorgio, Immediate Effects of Kinesiotaping on Quadriceps Muscle Strength: A Single-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Crossover Trial.Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 2012. 22(4): p. 319-326.
- Nelson, N.L., Kinesio taping for chronic low back pain: A systematic review.J Bodyw Mov Ther, 2016. 20(3): p. 672-81.
- Nunes, G.S., et al., Kinesio Taping does not decrease swelling in acute, lateral ankle sprain of athletes: a randomised trial.J Physiother, 2015. 61(1): p. 28-33
- Wageck, B., Nunes, G. S., Bohlen, N. B., Santos, G. M., & de Noronha, M. (2016). Kinesio Taping does not improve the symptoms or function of older people with knee osteoarthritis: a randomised trial. Journal of Physiotherapy, 62(3), 153–158. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jphys.2016.05.012