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.
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.