Monday, August 13, 2018

Kinesio Tape - Part of Your Injury Protocol?

"Don't call for your surgeon, even he says it's late.  It's not your lungs this time but your heart holds your fate."      Bruce Springsteen, For You

Kinesiology Tape reportedly:

1)  Supports muscle

2)  Removes congestion to the flow of bodily fluids
3)  Activates the endogenous anesthesia system
4)  Corrects joint problems
5)  Reduces muscle fatigue
6)  Reduces delayed-onset muscle soreness
7)  Enhances healing by reducing edema
8)  Increases blood flow
9)  Aligns fascial tissues

Let's see if these claims hold water.


I've been intrigued by the array of tape colors and applications for a long time. Taping has gotten pretty wide exposure but I'm having trouble understanding the claimed physiology behind these claims. "Lifts the skin," supports muscles and joints," just doesn't seem to add up in my book.  I admit that having so many attributes aligned with a single product can be confusing, at least to me anyway.  But let's check a little further.

The product originated in Japan in the 1970's by Kenso Kaze, an acupuncturist/chiropractor.  The pieces are cotton based and possess a heat-activated adhesive.  Anecdotally, trainers and athletes have seen success although some describe it as, "Hit and miss."  Unfortunately, there's not a great deal in the medical literature to support it's use. Many of the claims seem to be manufacturer-based.  (Where have we heard that before?)  One study from 2008 evaluating the tape's use in athletes with shoulder pain did show immediate improvement with the use of kinesio tape over a sham. But by day 6, "Both the tape group and the sham group had significantly improved in all outcome variables."  The authors concluded, "Utilization of Kinesio tape for decreasing pain intensity or disability for younger patients with suspected shoulder tendinitis/impingement is not supported."  

Quoting AAOS Now senior science writer Terry Stanton, "Other reliable studies find little evidence to support using the tape, although some small investigations reported some positive results......overall, 'the efficacy of Kinesio tape in pain relief was trivial given there were no clinically important results.'"  

Taped athlete on Kona pier

No study has reported negative results. I think that's an important statement. The best explanation is that the mechanism is one of placebo.  That said, some would use it even if it only acts as a placebo.  There's no harm in giving it a try and if the athlete improves so be it.  S. Terry Canale, MD of the American Academy Of Orthopedic Surgeons sums it up this way:

1)  Kinesio taping has some benefit in 40 percent to 60 percent of users: probably works best as a placebo.
2)  It works best in the shoulder, forearm and quadriceps as an adjunct to PT rehabilitation.
3)  More definitive studies need to be done to see if any objective evidence supports it's use.

So, since we've previously established that triathletes are, in marketing terms, early adopters, willing to try the new and different even if it's unproven, we'll continue to see neon taped athletes from time to time. Whether or not it works remains to be seen.  And, other than the out of pocket expense, there doesn't seem to be any harm. It seems there may be a role for KT in the triathlete's injury bag and I wouldn't discount it.

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