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Pretty coloured tape, but what does it do?

Sports massage and kinesiology tape

Kinesiology tape has made a pretty major and highly visible impact on the world of injury and rehabilitation recently. Any sports fan will have seen the old white tape applied to joints particularly on rugby players, but then athletes started to appear with pink and blue tape.... what's going on?

Well, firstly, Kinesiology tape (or Ktape.... other brands are available) is not a straight like for like replacement for the old sports taping. KTape is a flexible, elastic, fabric tape which is latex free and long-lasting. Invented in the 1970's by Japanese Chiropractor Kenzo Kase manufacturers claim that the tape is capable of reducing pain, facilitating or inhibiting muscles, retraining the muscle, reducing inflammation, swelling and bruising and even correcting posture. However,there have been questions to its effectiveness. Initially there wasn't a body of evidence that it was effective other than as a placebo. However, more recently, evidence has grown that it may be useful. The medical and therapy professions have a long held article of faith that treatment must be evidence based but while scientific study has found that there is sufficient evidence to justify further research (in other words they are not dismissing it) they cannot find conclusive proof that it is effective. In non scholarly terms, there is something there, but they just can't demonstrate what it is. Possibly this comes from the limitations inherent in getting the right trial conditions and some studies acknowledge this. However, there is no suggestion of harm caused by application by a trained therapist and absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Anecdotal evidence from users of the tape is pretty remarkable though. Therapists who use it swear by it and users of the tape come back for more. In my own mind, if you feel it helps you, then it probably does.

So what are the claims? Manufacturers claim that KTape is a tool in corrective, rehabilitative, repair and pain management processes for everybody. In other words as stated above, skilled application of the tape may help relieve pain, speed recovery from injury as well as correct and/or support poorly performing muscle or tendons. It may inhibit an over active muscle or facilitate an under-performing one . It may also speed the drainage of lymph and reduce swelling and bruising at an injury site as well as address trigger points or knots (see my previous blog entry on knots). In fact, the clearest evidence for me is when I apply it over a bruise in a criss-cross pattern. This is to create a pressure gradient under the skin encouraging the bruise to dissipate through lymph drainage. When the tape is removed after a couple of days the areas immediately below the tape show significantly less bruising.

So specifically what conditions can it help with? Well, Kinesiology is not something that should be applied willy nilly just in case it might help. The condition and the need for the application really must be identified by a person acting within their field of expertise and after the relevant tests are conducted but conditions the tape may help manage include (among many others):

Back muscle injury

Shoulder injury including rotator cuff injury

Knee swelling


Patellar maltracking

Postural correction

Strained muscle

Muscle imbalance

Trigger points

Achilles strain

Thigh strain

The tape should not be used as a stand alone treatment but rather as just another method in a range of methods (Apologies to my therapist colleagues who would bandy the word 'modalities' here.... they mean 'methods' everyone!)

The different colours are for appearance sake only, there is no difference in their function but studies have shown that the different colours may influence the wearers perception of the pain they are experiencing. I even have a Union flag design! Teenagers can have a grungy look (so can pensioners if they wish.... no stereotyping here!) while service personnel or wannabees can have camouflage tape but you can go for plain old black, blue pink or a mixture. My sailing buddies could have red for left leg and green for right I guess.

The tape is heat activated and waterproof, so trying to remove it in a hot shower may not be advised, and manufacturers say it will last for 4 to 7 days. In my experience it can last longer unless you are hirsuit but then you may be asked to shave a small area to make the adhesion more effective and more comfortable to remove.

Finally, the applications can be made in fan shapes, 'I' strips, 'Y' strips, parrallels, star shapes or basket weave patterns. These shapes really do have a purpose and a trained person can identify very quickly what is going on simply by the shape and direction of application, but we are discrete and we won't tell!

So in a nutshell, the pretty colours may make you think you are in less pain, in which case there is an argument that you really are, but the function of the tape may help reduce pain, recovery from injury and to correct or support joints, muscle or soft tissue. The jury is out but there is no reason not to try it currently.

You will be seeing more and more of it as people get used to it but maybe not on the beaches or holiday resorts, as it leaves some pretty clear tan lines!

My treatment practice does not charge for the use of the tape, I am trained in its application and you have the opportunity to decide for yourself if I suggest it as a treatment option. That's a pretty good option.

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