To Tape or Not to Tape: That Is the Question

Here’s another question I’m sometimes asked:

“What about kinesiotaping–do you think that works?”

First of all, let’s look at what kinesiotaping is.  It originated in the 1970’s by a chiropractic acupuncturist in Japan–Kenzo Kase.  He was trying to extend the results from manual therapy and increase its effectiveness.  Kase wanted the tape to reflect the elasticity of human muscle, stay put for a few days and allow the underlying skin to breathe.  He also wanted it to be able to “lift” the skin by very small amounts.  The thought was that injured muscle, which has lost some of its elasticity, could be supported by the tape, helping it to heal and supporting the joints at the same time without interfering with range of motion.  Also, the tape is purported to stimulate mechanoreceptors in the skin that can decrease pain transmission (via light touch, vigorous rubbing, sustained pressure, weak electrical stimulation to the skin, and tension, for example, one or more of which may comprise a session of acupuncture, massage and exercise).  As for the tiny amount of lifting of the skin, I’m not sure what that would do: the amount it is going to lift, without being anchored or pulled away from the body by something outside of it, is very likely too small to make any real difference.

various kinesiotaped bodyparts
Kinesotaping: It looks kinda cool, but does it do anything else?

Back to the question: to tape or not to tape?  Wellll…the evidence thus far (and it’s pretty low quality overall) shows no benefit of kinesiotaping over sham (placebo) taping, none over no intervention and none over other physiotherapy interventions. In a few studies, there was a small but clinically insignificant positive effect on pain intensity, disability, quality of life, return to work and global impression of recovery, but again, the evidence was of low quality. Larger, randomized controlled trials in the future may change these conclusions, but for now, there is no scientific reason to promote the use of kinesiotaping, despite it’s rather widespread and enthusiastic use (e.g. my second cousin’s boyfriend’s mother’s physical therapist/chiropractor/___ swears by it!) and marketing hype (see 2008 and 2012 Olympics and many sports training and fitness oriented blogs).

On the other hand, it may work as well as a placebo, and that’s not nothing (aaa! double negative, the grammar folks are cringing). You’ve likely heard it before, but I’ll say it again here: if you think something is going to help, it probably will.  It may not help a lot, but sometimes that help is significant.  Could it be here?  Again, it’s individual and multi-factorial.

If you want to try kinesiotaping, it’ll set you back around $11 for ~ 16 feet and $55 for a roll of about 105 feet on amazon.com. (No I will not get a kickback if you buy some kinesiotape there, or anywhere else, for that matter.)  Some of the positive effect that has been found (again, low quality evidence) could be due to the feeling of security and support the tape may provide, things we often chalk up to “placebo.” Placebo effects include a lot of things we just don’t understand yet, or can’t or don’t know how to measure or provide a descriptive framework for.  Not saying that’s what’s going on with the benefits some people claim to experience from kinesiotaping, but it could be.

At the end of the day, if you are already using kinesiotape and think it is working for you, whatever that may be, it is very unlikely to cause any harm if you keep on with it.  If you aren’t using it and want to give it a whirl, it just might help…a little, but it looks like probably not much.  I give kinesiotaping a *meh* rating.

Please see the most up to date systematic review here:
http://www.journalofphysiotherapy.com/article/S1836-9553(14)00009-5/fulltext

and most recent RCT here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4668342/

Disclaimer:  The information contained in this website, and links there from, are not to be construed as fact nor as medical advice.

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