Ask an Expert: Kinesiology Tape

It first appeared in the public eye at the 2008 Summer Olympics. We wondered about the black lines stretched at bizarre angles across the bodies of the world’s best athletes.

It took a few days for announcers and viewers alike to figure out that the tape twisting across the shoulder of gold medal volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings was an increasingly popular therapeutic treatment. Kinesiology tape, we learned, was believed by many to be the next big thing in sports medicine (though it was originally developed in the 70s).

A shrewd marketer at those Beijing Olympics had donated the tape to 58 countries and been rewarded with international exposure.

The popularity of the tape, which is applied directly to the skin and differs from traditional athletic tapes in its extreme elasticity, has exploded since 2005. Professional athletes like NBA MVP candidate James Harden now extoll its virtues.

Kinesio tape’s proponents claim it supports injured muscles and joints, and can help relieve pain by lifting the skin and allowing blood to more easily flow to targeted areas

Yet despite its prevalence, the question of whether kinesio tape actually works remains unresolved.

Studies on the product have found little evidence to support that kinesio tape is more effective than traditional therapies.

Tricia Turner is coordinator of the Athletic Training Program at UNC Charlotte and a professor in the Department of Kinesiology. She said kinesio tape may help stimulate nerve activity after an injury, but such an application is not yet confirmed.

“After any injury there is going to be damage to the nerves that send messages to and from the brain from the involved joint. This can potentially lead to chronic problems as those messages are critical to avoidance of injury. KT Tape may help those nerves work better which may help function and reduce injury. There are some secondary reports of pain reduction and reduction of swelling, but they are pretty limited,” she said.

On the other hand, the tape does carry a benefit in that it sticks better the longer you wear it, Turner said.

“Traditional elastic adhesive tapes lose their ability to support the joint in as little as 20 minutes after application. So from the design standpoint of KT tape does lend itself to be supportive then tape.”

Personal anecdotes that kinesio tape works may emerge from a common medical phenomenon, she added.

“I think there is a huge placebo effect in sports medicine. When athletes see other athletes, especially successful athletes, using a product, the assumption is the product must work. Although I think there are some benefits to kinesio tape (support, neuromuscular stimulation) I think a huge part of it is a placebo effect.”

Kinesio tape is also expensive. For that reason, Turner said she wouldn’t regularly stock it in her training room. However, she said she also wouldn’t actively discourage a patient from purchasing it if the patient believed it would be effective.

Turner said there are more questions than answers on kinesio tape at this point, but that could change soon.

“It takes time for the research to keep up with all the new products. I think we will know a lot more on the efficacy of KT tape in the next year or two. But there is lots of research to be done!”

Professor Tricia Turner serves on the Journal of Athletic Training, BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, and Athletic Training & Sports Health Care editorial boards. She is also a researcher at the Center for Biomedical Engineering Systems at UNC Charlotte.

by: Wills Citty