What’s with all that Kinesio Tape?

Elastic therapeutic taping was first patented as a method for managing muscle and sports injuries in the 1960s. However, the person credited with introducing Kinesio tape and taping methods we currently use today is a Japanese chiropractor, Dr. Kenso Kase. According to his website (www.kinesotaping.com), he developed the tape with material that would closely match the texture and elasticity of human tissue to support muscles that have been injured. As well, the tape was intended to microscopically lift the skin away from the underlying tissues to allow for improved lymph drainage, which would accelerate healing.

After its introduction in the late 70s, the primary professionals utilizing this treatment were orthopedists, athletic trainers and athletes in Japan. By the 1988 olympics, the Japanese Olympic and professional athletes were using Kinesio tape regularly. But it wasn’t until the 2008 Olympics in Beijing that it started to become a hot commodity in the western world. In Beijing, Kinesio tape was donated to 58 countries and spectators watched as high-profile athletes donned the colorful material. Kerri Walsh of the United States, Ari Taub of Canada and members of Spain’s men’s basketball team were all using Kinesio tape to support their injuries. That’s when things really took off.

Sales of the product increased 300% following the Beijing games. Professionals like Lance Armstrong, David Beckham, and amateurs alike adopted the tape as part of their injury treatment program. Now, four years later in London, it was hard to watch an Olympic event without seeing one of the athletes use Kinesio tape. With all these sales and increased use in athletes, the question now becomes if science and research support its use.

In 2010, research was published evaluating the use of Kinseio tape in managing shoulder injuries in young athletes. There was no benefit noted at the medium and long term. However, immediate benefit was noted after application, which can be explained by placebo effect. Most recently, in 2012, a study was published in Sports Medicine reviewing all of the research that had been published to date about the effectiveness Kinesio tape. At this point, no research has demonstrated any difference in pain relief compared to placebo. They reported there may be some small benefit in improving strength, range of motion and providing athletes feedback on when they are over-stretching joints.

However, lack of scientific research behind a medical innovation does not prove lack of effect; just that additional research is needed to explain it. Truth is, there are many medical products (Tylenol) that science and research have yet to completely explain why it works. The one concept that all professionals (including Dr. Kase) agree on is that Kinesio tape should not to be used as the sole form of treatment for injuries, but as an aid in the rehabilitation process. Proper rehab, medication, activity modification, surgery when necessary, etc., are still the foundation of any injury management. Additionally, recent advances, like the use of Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP), are paving new ground for how we manage pain and injury. For now, Kinesio tape certainly looks to be promising, non-invasive, low risk method to enhance injury recovery.

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