Andy Murray wearing KT TAPE
informative

Miracle Injury Cure or Magical Painkiller: What Is Kinesiology Tape – And How Does It Work?

Kinesiology or kinesio tape is an adhesive taping method applied with the aim of reducing pain, increasing range of movement, and/or enhancing quality of movement in response to muskuloskeletal injury. Although originally arising in the 1970s, kinesio taping has rocketed in popularity in recent years, with celebrity endorsements and increasing popularity for both professional and recreational athletes.

Last month I undertook training to add kinesio tape application to my clinical skills. I am now able to offer kinesio taping services to clients at the Move Well Clinic. However, despite the widespread acceptance in the health and fitness industry – where it is considered to be an effective treatment for pain and injury we still don’t know a lot about kinesio taping, or how it works.

Example of knee and ankle kinesio taping
Example of knee and ankle kinesio taping from my RockTape training course

One brand in particular, ‘KTTape’, has run into trouble recently for making claims for clinical benefits to no less than 16 injuries, as well as pain relief (1). A major lawsuit was filed against the company in 2015 for these claims which were not based on any clinical evidence. That is because there had been very little research conducted to evaluate its effectiveness at that point in time – let alone high quality research (randomised controlled studies). Their claims were based on flimsy anecdotal statements. As a result questions have been raised about if and how kinesio taping methods work to address musculoskeletal injury symptoms.

there has been a flurry of research interest to investigate whether or not the supposed benefits of kinesio tape can be supported with scientific evidence

But despite the implication for the manufacturer KTTape, therapists still continue to use kinesio tapng methods in clinics. Athletes and non-athletes still apply tape. How can we justify this?

Well, since that high profile lawsuit was filed against KTTape in 2015 there has been a flurry of research interest to investigate whether or not the supposed benefits of kinesio tape can be supported with scientific evidence. The findings of the literature reviews so far have been mixed – both positive and neutral effects of taping have been reported by the studies reviewed. However, the general consensus has been that more robust research evidence is needed before kinesio taping can be marketed as a clinically proven way of reducing pain and managing muskulosketal injury.

findings of the literature reviews so far have been mixed – both positive and neutral effects of taping have been reported by the studies reviewed

Here’s a glimpse into some of the findings of a few reviews…

Mostafavifar and colleagues (2) concluded in their review in 2012 that there was “… insufficient evidence to support the use of (kinesio tape) following musculoskeletal injury, although a perceived benefit cannot be discounted. There are few high-quality studies examining the use of (kinesio tape) following musculoskeletal injury”. Again, this is a call for more evidence. However, this review did also highlight a number of significant findings that supported the use of kinesio tape for improving pain and range of motion for whiplash, chronic lower back pain and pain from shoulder impingement. It is also important to note here that the authors acknowledge the patients’ perceived benefits – i.e.: that symptom reduction may not be due to a physiological response to the taping on its own. This ties in well with the growing evidence base that indicate neurological processes (our brain’s interpretation of pain) have a much greater role to play in our experience of pain than was previously believed.

There are few high-quality studies examining the use of (kinesio tape) following musculoskeletal injury

Taping has been found to reduce self-reported measures of pain. An investigative study by Kocyigit and colleagues (3) published in the International Journal of Physical Therapy in 2016 looked into the effects of kinesio tape on measures of pain in shoulder impingement (subacromial) compared to a ‘sham-taping’ treatment. The results showed that both treatments were associated with significant improvements in pain, although the kinesio tape treatment had a slight edge. So, although the positive effects of taping on pain measures are not exclusive to the kinesio tape method, the findings from this study indicate that taping treatments in general may provide pain-alleviating effects in cases of shoulder impingement.

positive effects of taping on pain measures are not exclusive to the kinesio tape method… taping treatments in general may provide pain-alleviating effects in cases of shoulder impingement

A meta-analysis conducted by Williams and colleagues in 2012 also published similar conclusions – that the strength and range of motion benefits shown from using kinesio taping are insufficient to draw a finite conclusion, and that further research was needed to confirm the effects of this mode of treatment.

A more recent systematic review of research by Saracoglu, Emuk and Taspinar (4) in 2017 examined the effects of kinesio tape alongside other physiotherapy treatments, such as exercise, electrotherapy and manual therapies, for shoulder impingement (subacromial). They concluded, “The results were conflicting and weak on the effectiveness of taping as an adjunct therapy for improvement of pain, disability, range of motion and muscle strength”. This means that there is not enough strong and robust evidence to make a definitive statement that kinesio tape works as a mode of treatment of this particular shoulder problem, even when used in combination with other therapy treatments.

kinesiology tape
Kinesiology tape

The conclusions of all of these studies have one thing in common – they report that the evidence currently available is both insufficient in volume and quality. This simply means we need more high quality evidence to make a decision about if, how and when kinesio taping is used in clinical settings.

In short, despite a growing evidence base, there is still not enough information available to confirm or deny the effectiveness of this particular taping method as a stand-alone treatment – the jury is out. For KTTape the lack of finite evidence means that the case brought against them has been successful – therefore they will pay a $1.75 million settlement to address deceptive marketing allegations. If you have bought KTTape you could be entitled to up to 50% of your money back (N.B.: you only have until May 18th 2018 to make your claim – so act fast!).

 

I have seen positive responses in pain and injury management… a number of my clients their lower back pain has been reduced for a day or two when wearing the tape, which meant no need for painkillers

But that is not to say that kinesio tape doesn’t help with the management of pain or injury – all we know is that the evidence is too mixed to draw a full conclusion yet. At the Move Well Clinic I currently offer taping to my clients as I have seen positive responses in pain and injury management. I have witnessed positive outcomes when I have provided it alongside other methods that are supported by stronger clinical evidence, such as exercise and soft tissue therapy. As I await more evidence to make a more informed decision about the role of kinesio tape in my treatment protocols in future I continue to rely on my clients’ feedback. So far I have had no negative feedback – only positive. For example: for a number of my clients their lower back pain has been reduced for a day or two when wearing the tape, which meant no need for painkillers. So, I will continue to offer it as an adjunct treatment to those who want it, and I will reflect on my client’s reported experiences…

Have you used kinesio tape? Did you find it works? It would be great to know about your experience – please leave a comment below!

References:

(1) https://topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/lawsuit-news/826355-athletic-kt-tape-false-advertising-class-action-settlement/

(2) Mehran Mostafavifar, Jess Wertz & James Borchers (2015) A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Kinesio Taping for Musculoskeletal Injury, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 40(4): 33-40

(3) Figen Kocyigit, Merve Acar, Mehmet Besir Turkmen, Tugce Kose, Nezahat Guldane & Ersin Kuyucu (2016) Kinesio taping or just taping in shoulder subacromial impingement syndrome? A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 32(7): 501-508

(4) Ismail Saracoglu, Yusuf Emuk & Ferruh Taspinar (2017) Does taping in addition to physiotherapy improve the outcomes in subacromial impingement syndrome? A systematic review, Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 34(4): 251-263

(5) Sean Williams, Chris Whatman, Patria A. Hume, & Kelly Sheerin (2012) Kinesio Taping in Treatment and Prevention of Sports Injuries, Sports Medicine, 42(2): 153–164

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