Various uses of Kinesio tape
The ‘stretch and lift’
Kinesio tape can stretch to anywhere between 100-180% of its original length. That is what really sets it apart when it comes to other tapes in sports and rehabilitation. The stretch not only allows it to contour to different body parts, but it creates a recoil of the skin. This recoil acts to pull the skin closer from the tape’s origin site to where it ends.
With this, a small lift or decompression of the skin is created which relieves pressure on the area where the tape is applied. This proposed lift may allow the associated muscles, joints and tendons to have more room for smoother contraction and stretch.
Decompression and pain
The proposed decompression of the skin can lead to a number of positive influences on it. Relief from pressure is first and foremost. Within our skin and underlying tissues, we have a multitude of receptors including those responsible for pain. By relieving the pressure in between the skin layers, we change or dampen the pain signal that goes from our skin to our brain.
Along with this, the decompression allows fluids underneath the skin like blood and lymphatic fluids (vital in the recovery process) to circulate more freely without as much interruption.
Sensory input and performance
The lift of the skin can change what information gets to the brain, including pain input as stated previously. This change can potentially help in decreasing the feelings of tightness in muscles or pain from associated trigger points in muscles. Along with these, some athletes believe having the tape on their skin acts as protection – knowing the tape is present on an injured area may allow some athletes to feel more confident in their abilities to overcome the injury.
Among some practitioners and rehabilitation professionals, there is a belief that Kinesio tape can also provide an actual improvement in performance. This may occur from the Kinesio tape providing support along with slight pressure to unstable joints or painful muscles. This feeling of pressure can help to facilitate muscle contraction as well and make the athlete feel stronger.
Although this may be felt from a subjective perspective, there is a lack of evidence based research on Kinesio tape’s positive effect on performance.
The same can also be said for supporting weaker areas of the body. The tape provides extra support with a joint’s normal movement – this may help to support fatigued areas and protect them from further injury or compensatory patterns.
It can also provide support for tendons, which take on the load from our bodies and forces from the ground. The patellar tendon is a common source of pain for athletes who run and jump, along with individuals who sit for prolonged periods of time.
Tape can be applied to lift and support the patella, and acts similar to a patellar strap or brace.
Another common area for support taping is on the foot.
With flat feet or lower arches, the navicular bone, which is located on the inside of the foot, sits lower than it should secondary to the height of the arch. A sling can be used to ‘lift’ the navicular and subsequently lift the arch. This adds support and protection to the foot.
Kinesio tape is applied to provide feedback for where our body and posture is situated in space. This is through proprioceptive input, which helps our bodies understand where they are positioned. Rehabilitation professionals will use the tape to cue a patient or client
to keep them in a corrective position or posture. An example of this is on the upper back and posterior shoulders – Kinesio tape is placed in an X fashion from the top of the shoulder toward the spine in a downward direction and crossed.
This will allow the tape to pull and create a feeling of stretch when the patient rolls into a forward head/rounded shoulders position. This acts to pull the patient back to a scapular retracted and upright posture.
Another example is with lower back pain. Kinesio tape is placed on the muscles of the lumbar spine while the spine is flexed in order to provide feedback for people who may slump over in their chair or while standing.
Again, the Kinesio tape is acting as a reminder to stay more upright and out of positions that can cause pain with the stretch of the tape.
Kinesio tape can be cut and manipulated in order to promote a reduction in swelling in various areas of the body. The target for the tape is an injured area that is swollen and may be discoloured. The tape is cut in a crossover pattern with strips that mimic lymphatic channels.
The idea here is the tape provides the lift of the skin which creates space in between the layers of skin. This changes the pressure gradient in those layers of skin which enhances the flow within the lymphatic system. These channels run through our connective tissue and allow our body to deal with excess fluid.
This can be beneficial with acute and chronic injury as well as recovering from strenuous exercise and training.
Kinesio tape can be placed on and around closed scars for a multitude of reasons such as improving aesthetics, decreasing pain and improving pliability of the scar. Scars that are present after an injury or surgical procedure become an interruption in the skin’s layers which affect how the soft tissue in and around it contracts and stretches. This can affect your range of motion of the associated area, which can also have an effect on your strength.
Taping over and/or around a closed scar introduces a shearing or massage effect to all the layers of the scar. With this, we can also affect the surrounding tissue and have an effect on the overall movement of the associated extremity or region. The goal here is to encourage proper alignment of the tissues affected in and around the scar. It is important to know you should not place tape over open wounds or immature scars that are less than six weeks post-injury.
Our nervous system has a unique relationship to our muscular system. For a number of reasons, a nerve can become irritated and/or compressed and impact the muscles it supplies sensory and motor function to. This can cause pain, weakness and numbness, or tingling into the leg or arm depending on the nerve affected. The tape can be applied along the length of the nerve, from its most proximal to distal point in a stretched position. Through this, the skin is lifted, allowing the nerve to glide and slide smoother in its track that it runs through.
In essence, this helps to decrease the irritation allowing for improved function. It may be difficult to perform this technique without the help of a rehabilitation professional.