If you have watched a volleyball game, bicycle race or other competitive sport, you’ve probably seen strips of tape covering athletes’ knees, backs and shoulders in an array of patterns. Those strips are KT tape — a brand of kinesiology tape — applied strategically to the body to reduce pain, improve performance and provide support. While these elastic strips may look unassuming, there is an expertise to knowing about their benefits and how to properly use them, according to local medical experts.
History and uses
Dr. Kenzo Kase created kinesio tape in the late 1970s as an alternative to athletic tape, says Philip Whitmore, an orthopedic massage therapist and director of Siskiyou Massage in Ashland. “Instead of using stiff medical tape, Kase wanted something that mimicked the elasticity of human skin. So, he produced kinesio tape, which is made from a combination of cotton, spandex and adhesive. It gives support and offers function at the same time,” he explains.
KT tape is used to treat pain and disabilities, including athletic injuries and other physical disorders, according to Jennifer Vaughn, a licensed massage therapist with Pro Spine & Sport in Central Point. “KT tape supports muscle injuries — everything from lower back pain to knee issues, shoulder injuries and more,” she says.
When applied correctly, Vaughn explains KT tape lifts the skin from the tissues below it. “Everyone has nerve receptors in their skin, as well as in the deep layers of the fascia, muscles and other connective tissues. When the tape is applied, it causes compression or decompression in these areas.”
The list of reasons for using KT tape is extensive, and some people would say you could use it for almost anything, according to Whitmore. “Generally, it’s used in five main systems of the body: skin and connective tissue, the circulatory system, lymphatic system, muscles and joints,” he adds.
To specifically help with injuries, Vaughn says KT tape takes pressure off the body’s pain receptors and promotes blood flow, as well as supports muscles so they don’t overextend. “Additionally, KT tape has several preventative uses. Many athletes put tape on before endurance or strength training to help enhance overall performance and possibly prevent an injury,” she says.
Creating support and function
However, many people are unaware how important it is that KT tape stretches, says Whitmore. “If you keep the tape stretched under 50% of its original length, it has a recoil effect and brings the tissue together. But if you stretch it past 50%, there’s no recoil and the tape stabilizes the area. A practitioner works with the stretch of the tape in order to help the patient achieve a specific goal,” he explains.
Whitmore adds that the elasticity in KT tape can turn a muscle “on” or “off.” For example, he explains that if someone had surgery to repair their ACL, taping the quad with maximum tension brings muscle fibers together and causes a contraction to strengthen the muscles. “Alternatively, if a person is experiencing tightness in their calves, taping with limited tension can turn “off” the muscle so it doesn’t receive pain signals.”
Kinesiology tape provides numerous benefits, Vaughn says. “KT tape can lessen pain, reduce swelling and bruising, support the lymphatic system, retrain muscles for postural support and support weak spots in the body,” she explains, noting KT tape is also water resistant and latex free.
However, Whitmore says KT tape isn’t supposed to replace the body functioning on its own. “You want the tape to help the body to function for two to three days. When the tape comes off, the goal is for the body to keep functioning correctly now that it has been properly supported with the tape. Whether one round is enough, or you need to get taped again, it should be removed for a few days in between applications so the skin can breathe.”
Whitmore and Vaughn agree you should have kinesiology tape initially applied by a professional. “A practitioner can show you how to place the tape correctly without causing harm to the body, muscles, skin or tissues,” says Vaughn.