Living With Chronic Pain

Kinesiology Tape

Dr Kensi Kase developed the use and techniques of kinesiology tape in the 1970’s. It gained increased interest when 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic athletes were seen using multiple colored tape all over different body parts. It’s a controversial treatment that has been disputed as providing nothing more than placebo effects. But there are other results that show encouraging data documenting its use as an effective alternative to aid mobility and motor function by using special strips of tape applied in specific directions to support joints, muscles and tendons.

Kinesiology tape and sport tapes used by athletes have different purposes

* kinesiology tape facilitates motion while helping to decrease pain, inflammation and spasm. Sport tape is used to support an area of concern and limit motion due to underlying pain.

*kinesiology tape is meant to be flexible and move with activity. Athletic tape is meant to be inflexible.

*kinesiology tape is meant to improve circulation and lymphatic drainage. Athletic tape is supposed to bind tightly, which decreases circulation.

How kinesiology tape works

* Once applied, tension on the tape causes it to pull the skin gently, lifting it off the tissues beneath it. In this way applying pressure to support muscles and joints while still allowing circulation to flow freely and improve mobility.

* Its physical presence impacts the sensory nervous system and changes the proprioception input of the mechanosensory neurons located within muscles, joints and tendons. This system allows us to know where a particular part of our body is in space at any one time. Taping an area clearly makes us more aware of its movement.

* It improves how a muscle fires and contracts by supporting it throughout all ranges of motion leading to better tone and performance. One study found contractions in the vastus medialis muscle- a part of the quadriceps muscle group- that keeps the kneecap in proper position improved after being taped.

* It inhibits nociceptors that send pain inputs from the muscles, skin and joints to the brain. This decreases muscle spasms and improves muscle tone. A December 2021 study showed taping prevented increased muscle sensitivity and provided greater pain relief compared with no tape.

* Improves stability and offers support while still allowing for movement.

 Research showed taping improved the ability to walk as well as range of motion and lessened pain in those suffering from arthritis of the knee and low back pain.  

*Decreases swelling by decreasing the pressure between the skin and underlying tissues allowing fluids trapped a way out. In one NIH study, taping along with lymphatic massage produced a significantly faster reduction in edema as compared to massage alone.

* Can be used to improve mobility and range of motion when scar tissue binds the skin to the underlying fascia after an injury or surgery. The tape gently pulls on the scar creating a low intensity stretch that over time can decrease its hold.

*Improves joint alignment by providing mechanical support and correction.

How is it applied?

The three main types of taping are:

* The I strip is used to support muscles, tendons and ligaments. It’s the foundation for all the taping treatments.

* The X strip is used to support larger muscles like the hamstrings and back muscles.

* The Y strip is used to cross sensitive areas such as behind the knee, on the elbow or wrist, often used to keep the kneecap in its proper position. It gives support while still allowing mobility.

*The fan strip is often used to reduce swelling, bruising and lymphedema- tissue swelling caused by an accumulation of protein rich fluid drained through the lymphatic system. It too can be used to cover larger areas.

* The lift strip, often called the “band-aid”, is used to support injured tissues, treat muscle knots or trigger points. It helps to lift skin and tissue off sore muscles, while still giving protection and support.

Before use

* Clean the skin using a hand sanitizer, alcohol or pre tape cleanser.
* Round the edges so they don’t roll up or get caught on clothing.
* Trim or shave hair to allow it to stick to the skins surface better.
* Rub the tape from the center toward each end to activate the adhesive property and keep it firmly in place.
* Don’t apply right after a shower or exercising. Make sure the skin is dry.
*Do not apply to open wounds, irritated skin, or rashes
* Don’t touch the adhesive side, it will decrease its effectiveness. Gradually remove the backing as you apply.
* Only stretch the center of the tape to provide tension,not the final few inches.

How to remove it

* Apply baby oil to loosen the strip,
* Slowly peel it back, not up, as you compress the skin to separate it from the tape.
* If irritated or damaged do not reapply.

Whether it works by making us more aware of the area of pain, or actually fulfills all it claims, this is another benign option to try when extra support during exercise or everyday activities is warranted. Especially since it’s lightweight, breathable and doesn’t restrict movement. Always clear with your provider before using and never use on open or new wounds.

Next week I’ll discuss how to tape different areas.








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