by Dr. Jennifer Hutton (Dr. J pop)
You’ve likely seen it on many athletes – the brightly colored tape intricately weaved across different areas of the body – most commonly shoulders, lower back, or knees. It ranges from skin-toned to black to a variety of neon colors. Needless to say, it stands out, however, it isn’t an athlete’s trending accessory. That, my friends, is called Kinesiology tape, otherwise known at K-Tape or KT.
The Kinesiology taping method was developed in 1980 by Kenzo Kase, a chiropractor from Japan, who used the KT to help maintain the postural gains of his own patients. It is known as a therapeutic taping technique not only offering added support but also rehabilitating the affected condition as well. KT has been used as a tool in the movement rehab world for years now and in the early 2000s gained mainstream popularity when people noticed popular athletes wearing it during major performances.
KT is a definitive technique designed to facilitate the body’s natural healing process. It is meant to provide support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting the body’s range of motion. KT also provides soft tissue manipulation in order to extend the benefits of manual therapy after administered by a trained physician. Thus the tape assists in recovery and healing in three specific ways: managing pain, reducing inflammation and improving body awareness for movement.
This tool is used mostly for assisting the recovery of various injuries, especially as the patient begins to enter activity again. Or simply, it can be used to improve your movement patterns. KT gives aid to improving posture and coordination to enhance performance. After all, the more efficiently you move, the less likely you are to deal with injury or re-injuring the same problem area.
In order for KT to work, those problem areas are encompassed and positioned strategically in order to provide support. Placed on your skin, the largest organ in your body laced with nerve cells responsible for sensing touch, temperature, and pressure, KT lifts the skin and creates a better environment underneath the outer layer. This helps reduce swelling. When those sensories (nerves) are sparked, they send messages to the brain. The brain takes that information and determines the body’s response. For example, when KT is applied to your skin, the nerve cells attempt to return a message to override the signals causing pain.
By targeting different receptors within the somatosensory system, KT alleviates pain and facilitates lymphatic drainage by microscopically lifting the skin. This lifting effect forms convolutions in the skin thus increasing interstitial space and allowing for a decrease in inflammation of the affected areas. The nerve cells also determine where a body part is in space, allowing you to move it more efficiently. This also structuralizes some technical cues for safe movement patterns.
There are many techniques when applying KT, however, its relevance depends on the condition and the patient’s needs. The most common taping techniques are for knees and shoulders. While tape can be self-applied by anyone, it is always beneficial to be assessed by a movement professional (physical therapist, chiropractor, athletic trainer etc.), particularly if you have inexplicable pain. If you were to self-apply KT, do so with a gentle stretch when placing on the skin. Refrain from excessive stretch in the material in order to avoid possible irritation. For small areas of pain, one strip covering the area is sufficient.
It is important to note that KT will not heal an injury on its own – it aids the recovery process by taking pressure off the sensitive site and the surrounding area. It should not be used in place of the potential need for a brace, like strained or pulled muscles and ligaments. Again, it is to reinforce functional movement patterns, reduce stress, and provide a passage for inflammation to either exit or subsidize. And of course, if you have pain that persists with exercises, find your nearest provider for an assessment.
KT is safe for all ages, ranging from pediatric to geriatric, and benefits a variety of orthopedic, neuromuscular, and other medical conditions, along with providing positive physiological effects on the skin, lymphatic and circulatory system, fascia, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. It is a helpful source of recovery, specifically for those nagging aches. When applied properly, it promotes the recovery of post-workout soreness and can decrease exercise-related pain. It is a valuable addition to a multitude of other treatments and methods effective during the rehabilitative and chronic phases of an injury as well as being used for preventative measures.