We’ve all seen this colorful stuff. Whether it be on a yoga master in your gym or on seemingly every athlete during the Rio Olympics. Kinesiology tape, Kinesio tape or KT tape for short, seems to be everywhere the past decade gaining much of its popularity after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But like most effective treatments and inventions the west has popularized in the 21st century, an eastern country was way ahead of us on the curve.
First created in Japan by Dr. Kenzo Kase in 1979 (although it was conceptualized in 1973), Kinesio tape was meant to be a more effective and useful type of athletic tape. At the time most supportive tape used by professionals in the 70’s was very stiff and used to limit range of motion on an injured body part/limb. Kinesio tape was designed to do the exact opposite, increase the range of motion of an athlete’s limb, give them better muscle contractions, as well as heal injuries.
Is this colorful tape we are beginning to see everywhere the recovery tool we can all use? Or just another fad that will eventually fizzle away? I will be discussing the facts and more in this article so stick around (get it?).
What Exactly is Kinesio Tape?
From a distance, Kinesio tape appears no different than colorful duct tape, but it’s once you get it in your hands that you can see and understand how it is unique. In thickness and texture, the tape is meant to mimic human skin, even having wave like patterns similar to a fingerprint on the inside to better attach to your skin (I will explain why soon). Like a Band-Aid, the sticky inner side has a paper layer that needs to be peeled off, for convenience as nobody enjoys their tape sticking to the table or their finger. Probably the biggest difference between Kinesio tape and normal athletic tape comes in the form of pliability. While staying rigid from side to side, Kinesio tape can stretch end to end about 50%, meaning it will stay on your body throughout all ranges of motion.
How Is It Used?
Now that you have a good grasp of how Kinesio tape works and functions, it will be easier to understand how it is used professionally and why. There are three different times when athletes would apply Kinesio tape to their body, before an event where there is potential to become injured (training or an actual competition), during a competition or training in the case of an injury, and after a competition or training to help recovery even without an injury:
1. In the first situation, for example a football or soccer player with an existing broken ankle might apply Kinesio tape around the vulnerable area, effectively supporting the area without limiting range of motion. An Olympic weight lifter might use Kinesio tape on their elbows, wrists and knees to help stabilize them through their lifts. Sprints and long distance runners might apply tape to their entire lower body to help with their strides and prevent the damage of repetitive motion on their joints.
2. In the second situation, athletes who might injure themselves during a game or training (more likely a game), can use Kinesio tape to return to the game and finish strong. Minor injuries can be prevented from getting worse (like a sprained wrist or ankle), so a player can return to a game. But of course immediately after they will receive treatment by a professional, assessing how extensive the injury is.
3. The third and most popular scenario when Kinesio tape is prescribed is after a strenuous workout/game, injury or not. This is where the science of how the tape works comes into play. When applied to the skin properly, the dermis is separated from the muscle, allowing more blood to flow and opening up fascial tissue. This effectively helps lessen inflammation caused by an injury or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), allowing the athlete to recover more quickly and return to the game or gym.
How Is Kinesio Tape Used Outside of Sport?
Recently, Kinesio tape has been adopted by physical therapists all over the world to help normal people with their injuries, exercise related or not. Just like with athlete’s injuries, this tape can be used on anybody to reduce swelling and inflammation on a certain area, as well as stabilize a creaky joint/ligament to help it heal more safely. Some have even had success using Kinesio tape for alignment, whether it be the spine or hips, to help individuals with bad posture or an over pronounced pelvic tilt.
Lastly therapists have been using Kinesio tape to reduce pain in certain areas. A good example would be low back pain, when applied with a certain technique to the affected area, it will do quite a bit to reduce pain and can be kept on the body for days at a time to help the healing process. If there is bruising, a certain taping method can be used to actually drain fluids into lymphatic ducts to help reduce bruising and swelling of an area.
Take Home Message
What should we remember about Kinesiology tape? It’s not quite the miracle cure many were claiming in the past few years, but it does have some proven benefits for anybody suffering from an injury. While the tape is quite cheap to buy (no more than $10 for a roll), the technique to apply it correctly takes some time to learn. Every color of the tape (some range from yellow, to red, to orange, to blue) has a different purpose and if used incorrectly will most likely not heal anything. The best option is to find somebody proficient in taping (there are actual instructors called Certified Kinesio Tape Instructors) to help you do it, as applying the tape yourself can be tricky. While there are YouTube videos showing the different techniques and methods, going to a physical therapist or doctor to assist you will yield the best results.
Many forget that recovery is a large portion of training, and every tool you can add to your arsenal to help is a welcome one! While Kinesio tape might not solve all your problems, combining it with proper nutrition, quality sleep and stretching/foam rolling, you will begin to feel a world of difference from your energy levels to your training progress!