Remember when you hurt yourself when you were younger and your mum would run to the medical cabinet, pull out a disney plaster (one of those ones that costs 3 times as much as a regular plaster) and just like magic you wouldn’t be hurt anymore?
Well, this is what I pictured would happen when I tried Kinesio tape.
What is Kinesio tape?
Kinesio taping is a form of taping muscles for rehabilitation defined by the sire as being able to: “facilitate the body’s natural healing process while providing support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting the body’s range of motion as well as providing extended soft tissue manipulation to prolong the benefits of manual therapy administered within the clinical setting” - at least, according to their website.
What does Kinesio tape do?
The Kinesio site is filled with explanations of how this magic tape does it’s job, which in layman's terms, translates to the following:
By lifting the skin the tape aids with lymphatic drainage and reduces inflammation. The tape can be applied in hundreds of different ways and claims to have the ability to re-educate our neuromuscular system, reduce pain and inflammation, optimise performance, prevent injury, promote good circulation and healing and assist in returning the body to homeostasis ie. normal.
Dr. Kenzo Kase developed the Kinesio Taping Method in the 1970s whilst looking for a way to aid the body’s natural healing process and prolong the benefits of his treatments, after his patients left the office. He worked as a chiropractor in Tokyo and founded the tape in 1980. In interviews he has insinuated that the tape became more popular in Tokyo as there they are more open to alternative medicine such as massage and acupuncture. Since it became readily available to buy in 1983, the tape’s popularity has grown from strength to strength, with tape being used to support the olympics, by sports celebrities such as Gareth Bale, David Beckham and Claire Steels and a Kinesio University has even been opened.
A little research
If you try to find research around Kinesio taping, you’ll go one of two ways, there is no sitting on the fence here. Either you think that there is not a significant enough amount of research supporting the tape and it is just another fitness fad, or you think Kinesio tape is a fitness fix and wear the tape without fail over tired, injured muscles or muscles at risk to prevent damage and support your sport.
Here are some of the studies which have been conducted:
Two studies on Kinesio Tex showed some short-term effect. A study of 42 patients with shoulder pain, published in 2008 in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, found that range of motion improved immediately after application of kinesiology tape, compared with a sham taping using no tension. But the study found no significant difference in pain or overall disability scores.
A study on 41 patients with whiplash after car accidents found statistically significant pain relief and improvements in range of motion with kinesiology taping compared with a sham tape. The effects were seen immediately and continued a day later. In the paper, the Spanish-led research team said the changes were so small they "may not be clinically meaningful." Kinesio Holding, which didn't fund either study, said a limitation of the shoulder study is that the kinesiology taping wasn't customised to each patient's injury.
As studied are few and far between, it is hard to be conclusive purely based upon scientific evidence.
As with anything that gains a bit of momentum, there are many copycats of the Kinesio tape, however the original tape has distinctive features which make it easy to spot a fake.
The Kinesio Tex tape is designed to mimic the epidermis of the skin, with the same thickness in the aim to attach to your skin causing as little distraction as possible. The tapes fibers are designed to stretch between 40-60% of their resting length, which is the approximate stretch potential of areas of your skin such as the knee and lower back.
The adhesive strips on the tape are created in wave patterns to mimic fingerprints. The tape is porous and waterproof, designed to be gentle on the skin and remain breathable at all times.
The tape can be applied in a variety of ways to aid rehabilitation, once applied the tape lasts between 2 - 3 days depending on the affected area.
Kinesio regularly host courses on how to apply the tape and it is recommended you attend a course before applying the tape, however it is not seen as essential and there are plenty of helpful videos and guides available online.
Putting Kinesio tape to the test
Last month was father’s day. Father’s day in my house means a family run. Joy. So my dad, the marathon runner, my sister, the school sprinter and myself, the weight lifter, set off on our run, I wonder who the weakest link is? I kept up for the first half, until on a downhill mini sprint to attempt to keep up with the others, I gloriously toppled over and had to hobble back to the road for a lift home. It’s been a beauty of an injury, sitting just above the ankle I found myself a high ankle sprain. I’d just started running daily, that stopped. I went on holiday wearing a support. Let me tell you, it has been bleak. It has now been five weeks of resting, exercising around the injury and icing when possible. So when I discovered Kinesio tape, I was praying it was going to be the adult alternative to one of those magic disney plasters.
Last week I received my Kinesio tape and I’ve been looking forward to reviewing it it ever since. I am a sceptical person, so following my online research I decided to take the approach of ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’. I’ll be the first to admit I’m desperate to get back to training normally and yes, I am looking (hoping and praying) for a miracle. Has the Kinesio tape given me one? Well, a miracle maybe not, but, I do feel better for wearing it.
Firstly, the tape is easy to apply and stays on easily for two days, including multiple showers. In fact, the only reason I actually pulled my first tape off was to check for tan lines, shameless. The tape sits comfortably and is easy to forget about.
Things the tape is good for:
Support: I swapped my tubigrip for kinesio tape for most of the day where I’m not putting any extra stress on my ankle and it felt really supported. It was far more comfortable to have on than a thick tubigrip between my foot and my trainer and still felt like it was holding my foot in place. However, I’m still far from being able to run, so no miracle cure.
Inflammation: For the last five weeks I have had a cankle. My ankle has stayed swollen despite ice pretty much from day one, when you compare the two side by side, one is at least a third bigger than the other. After applying the Kinesio taping the inflammation has reduced considerably and the ankle actually looks - as well as feels, less swollen.
Range of movement: Since the nurse confirmed my suspicion that I’d damaged the tendons in my ankle, I’ve been avoiding moving my ankle too much where possible. When the tape is applied, gentle movement of the ankle is far less painful, which is a benefit of the tape.
Pain relief: Another function of the tape was said to be pain relief. When I wake up in the morning and first apply the tape, I do feel a great sense of relief, but as the day goes on the aches gradually increase. Now, arguably this could simply be the toll of my daily activity, but the pain relief from the tape does seem to be initially quite significant and then slowly subside.
Overall, I think for me, the Kinesio tape has been a hit and after a week wearing it I will continue to do so. I think that proper application is critical to how well the tape works and that to get the most of the tape it really would be worth investing in going on one of their courses, something I would love to do in the future.
Am I going to give you a conclusive yes no answer as to whether the tape works or not? Of course not. For me personally, I felt better with it, be that a placebo effect or otherwise. Taping has been used to aid recovery by physiotherapists for years and whether there’s enough research to support it or not, if an athlete feels better prepared by wearing the tape, where’s the harm in that?