Kinesio Tape: Beneficial or Just Fashionable?

Kinesio Tape is supposed to help people with injuries, but would it be as popular if it were clear and no one could see you wearing it? Does it really have a purpose besides its label appeal?

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I was at Disney recently on a day they were having a big marathon. I couldn’t get over all the people with Kinesio Tape all over their bodies. People walked around all day long with stripes of vibrant colors on their legs, back, shoulders and arms. Was this crazy colored tape a real treatment or more of a fashion statement I wondered?

Since any type of sport or fitness activity is admired, fitness trends and styles have always been well received. People enjoy identifying with sports. Whether it’s wearing workout clothes or the newest fitness accessory, I really can’t imagine Kinesio Tape being any different.

While Kinesio Tape is supposed to help people with injuries, would it be as popular if it were clear and no one could see you wearing it? Or is it a fun way to show off your fit lifestyle and show everyone just how tough you really are. In a sense, it’s like saying, “I have pain but I’m not letting it stop me”. But, does it really have a purpose besides its Beastmode label appeal?

How It Works

Kinesio tape is basically an elastic tape that is applied to the skin using the Kenesio Taping Method. This therapeutic taping method is supposed to alleviate pain and facilitate lymphatic drainage by microscopically lifting the skin.

Though athletic trainers have been taping people for years to protect joints and prevent injury, this tape is thinner and more elastic than conventional tape. The application, from what I understand, is also different, allowing for greater mobility and skin traction. The skin traction is believed to promote elevation of the epidermis and reduce pressure on the affected area.

You aren’t supposed to just stick the tape wherever you want, however. There is a method to the taping madness. An experienced taper would decide what level of tension would generate an appropriate level of traction on the skin. They would need to know exactly where to place the tape to get the greatest effect.

When I started researching the topic, I called my friend, Dr. Jennifer Stepanek, (who is also my Chiropractor) to ask for her professional opinion. She explained it best saying, “when applied correctly, (key word “correctly”) Kinesio Tape allows for proper movement and provides support in the right direction to prevent injuries in athletes or to lift the skin away from the fascia, allowing for increased circulation.” She also mentioned it could possibly create increased sensory input in injured tissue which can expedite healing. It totally made sense to me and sounded like a pretty reasonable modality.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any real solid scientific evidence Kinesio Tape actually worked. All of the clinical studies I found came up with insufficient evidence to back the theory. Out of the 10 research papers that were published in the journal of Sports Medicine, there wasn’t enough evidence to support the tape’s use for pain relief and there were inconsistent results for range of motion too.

While plenty of people reported positive affects, it seemed unclear if they were founded. Experts have suggested there may be a placebo effect using the tape and they even say we shouldn’t discount that. I mean, if you feel like you have less pain, isn’t that a good thing?

While studies may not have given me the evidence I wanted, my friend did say she got mostly good results in her patients, but like any modality, some feel no benefit. She also said she had personally uses the tape and has experienced pain relief herself.

Pros and Cons

I have to admit, I got some Kinesio tape after I sprained my ankle earlier this year. I had it for about two or three months before I actually used it, simply because I had no clue how to tape an injury.

I had to Google how-to videos to learn how to use the stuff and, even then, I wasn’t really sure if I was doing it right. The guy in the video was clearly very proficient with the tape and moved so fast I really couldn’t follow him.

He also used terminology I wasn’t familiar with. Instead of saying “start by sticking the tape here”, he used clinical KT talk like “place your anchor using no tension at the (insert fancy long anatomical name here)” and continued swiftly through the application. I had to back up the video about 100 times to see if my application looked like his.

I’m sure the point of the short video was to show how fast and easily it could be applied, but I needed a slow-mo version and more clear normal definitions of what the heck he was doing. As a result, I was never really sure if the tension I was using was the “right” tension, or if my placement was accurate as well.

So, for me, the main con is that it takes a certain level of skill and understanding of how to correctly apply the tape to get the most benefit out of it. The pro is, even if you apply it incorrectly, I don’t think it can hurt you. Unlike some fitness trends that may be harmful, there really is no risk with Kinesio Tape that I know of.

Fit or Flop?

This was a hard one for me. I like solid evidence, but after doing my research I came up pretty empty handed. I would be inclined to say the jury is still out on this one, however, some experts made a very valid point that changed my mind saying an effective placebo could make all the difference between success and failure.

Athletes wear it when they aren’t even injured, hoping it may have a preventive or enhancing effect. The fact that athletes think it’s beneficial, could help in a psychological way. Since every one of us feel we need all the help we can get, maybe we are just a little sticky tape away from gaining the confidence we need to keep on keeping on.