Kinesiology Tape: Panacea or Placebo?


The Tape!

The Tape!

While I was nosing around Runner’s World’s website to find out what they thought about the recent Wall Street Journal article, “One Running Shoe in the Grave: New Studies on Older Endurance Athletes Suggest the Fittest Reap Few Health Benefits” (http://www.runnersworld.com/health/too-much-running-myth-rises-again) – RW’s Alex Hutchinson was, to put it mildly, not impressed – I ran across a recent report on an exposé of kinesiology tape, “Study: Kinesio Taping Doesn’t Improve Blood Flow to Calf,” that questioned the supposed science behind the tape, as well as kinesiology tape’s effectiveness (http://www.runnersworld.com/other-gear/study-kinesio-taping-doesnt-improve-blood-flow-calf).  To be fair, RW writer Scott Douglas was merely reporting on a study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, and he pointed out two aspects of the study that strike me as being rather important: the subjects using the tape in the study didn’t have any existing calf problems and calf measurements were taken when the subjects were sedentary.  I would also question the premise of the study itself. The idea, as I understand it, was to study whether the application of kinesiology tape on someone’s calf would increase blood flow and, as a result, lead to improved performance.  From what I’ve read about kinesiology tape, increasing blood flow is not the way it actually works.  Instead, the tape lifts the skin and relieves pressure and strain on the underlying tissues.  It then stimulates lymphatic drainage in the tissues between the skin and fascia.  I’m not a doctor (Actually, I am a doctor, but a doctor of history, not medicine.) so this entire scenario might smack of pseudoscience.  I think it is telling that I have read in various places that no one is quite sure how kinesiology tape works – a bit odd considering that it has been around for forty years.  I also visited the website of the KT Tape company, one of the more popular producers of the tape, and found no mention of how they thought it actually worked, either.

Now, I’m going to tell you that it doesn’t matter how it works.  I have to admit that I’m a fan of KT Tape, and I would argue that this is one of those times where the “experiment-of-one” idea really rings true.  The scientific studies may be tending towards the placebo side of the argument regarding the usefulness of kinesiology tape, but there are also a whole slew of anecdotal accounts of successful injury treatment.  This is a time where I can recommend spending 14-20 dollars for a roll of the stuff and testing it out for yourself.  It’s unlikely that you can do further injury with the tape and the potential positive outcomes are worth the financial cost.  This is not like spending $75,000 on an Alter-G treadmill only to find out that you just aren’t that into it and that it has become a great place to hang your laundry. This is a twenty-dollar roll of (potentially) magic tape.

Tan-colored KT Tape Pro

Tan-colored KT Tape Pro

Around our household, KT Tape is called “the tape.”  My wife owns the best success story.  After she hobbled around for about a year on a nasty case of plantar fasciitis, I used a plantar fasciitis taping schema on her foot suggested in Running Times and it worked.  My wife reported that she felt a tingling sensation when I applied the tape and associated that feeling with it working.  I have also successfully used KT Tape to relieve pain around my right tibia and I can also report feeling a “tingling sensation.” (I think this feeling might be associated with the “good sore” after exercise feeling, but the entire “good sore” versus “bad sore” feeling is worthy of its own blog entry – stay tuned…)  There are similar success stories across the Internet.  There are also, of course, reports from people whose injuries KT Tape did not help cure.  I think it’s likely that kinesiology tape simply works better for some types of injuries than for others and that this might be a good opportunity for readers to report on their experiences – both successful and not – with kinesiology tape.  There are several brands of kinesiology tape out there.  I have had success with KT Tape Pro, which is the latest (I believe) iteration of the tape and successfully addresses some adherence issues that people had with the original KT Tape.  It also has reflective material built into the tape, which might be useful if you are running in the dark, but seems odd when you use the stuff on the bottom of your foot.  The other thing to keep in mind when using KT Tape is that you need to make sure that you have some tension in the tape when you apply it.  As you can imagine, there are websites and YouTube videos that give specific instructions on how to apply the tape – some of the taping schemes can get complicated.  The KT Tape website reassures users that it is not possible to do further injury through an incorrect taping, you might just reduce the tape’s effectiveness.  This also gives us the leeway to develop new, effective taping schemes on our own.  I am looking forward to hearing about your own stories and recommendations about using kinesiology tape.

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2 comments on “Kinesiology Tape: Panacea or Placebo?

  1. bridgett says:

    I swear by the stuff. I’m Wife — the person who had trouble walking from PF. Well over a year of doing everything I could to avoid “the most painful shot in the world” had led to nothing but pain, frustration, weight gain, inactivity. I had to creep from bedside table to dresser to sink to get to the bathroom in the morning because I could barely put any weight on my left foot. I work on my feet every day and cannot be non-weight bearing in my line of work. Unhappy Wife. Finally, because I had nothing left to lose and didn’t want to spend the rest of my life sleeping in a goofy Strasburg splint, I consented to the tape-up. I don’t know why it worked. I don’t know if it was the extra support or the rumored lymphatic drainage or fascia mending, or whatall. Within a few days, I could step on my foot with less soreness. I could begin to stretch the arch, build a little strength through exercises that had been simply too excruciating to do even a week before. By ten days, it was feeling a LOT better. By three weeks, it was good enough that I actually hopped out of bed and walked to the bathroom without pain.

    Now, I’m not a runner. Not even close. However, I also know a really talented young 5k runner who regularly places top thirty in the Boilermaker who also had a chronic PF problem that sidelined him for several months. I shared the taping pattern and my encouraging results and he gave it a try as well. Same story, morning glory.

    It might not work for everybody. It worked for me and I know it’s been good for other people. So, considering that it is reasonably priced, it’s worth a shot. Of course, it’s not going to cure runners’ mania for overtraining, but that’s a blog comment for another day.

  2. Drew says:

    I have used “the tape” a couple times this year. The first time was after I twisted my left knee on a muddy trail back in February. After a week and a half of having my knee slip in and out of place, I went to my favorite running store and they suggested I use the tape. This was late February and using the tape to stabilize my knee (keep it from sliding in and out of place) allowed my to run the half marathon I had already paid for in late March. I focused on strengthening the muscles around my knee and was back to normal by early April.

    The second time was for my previously mentioned lower ab injury. Not so much luck there. I still have most of a roll and am thinking of using it on my abs again – it might do more good now during my down time. Of course down time is 3 spin classes per week and other days on an Arc trainer and an AMT machine.

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