***NERD ALERT! This article covers the ins-and-outs of kinesiology tape. Being a former professor, I can’t help but share all of the research and details here, so be prepared 🙂
What is Kinesiology Tape?
If you have watched any major sporting event in the past few years, chances are you have seen athletes wearing funny colored tape on their arms, legs, backs, and anywhere else they can stick it. Kinesiology tape comes in many names, colors, and packages and you may have questions about why they are wearing this tape all over themselves. This will be the first piece in at least a 2-part series of articles covering kinesiology tape, its applications, theories, and evidence behind its use.
Let’ start with he basics. Kinesiology tape comes in many styles and packages, but it all functions the same way. It is an elastic, adhesive tape that can be worn for multiple days in a row and is water resistant. Since it is elastic (or stretchy), unlike right athletic tape, athletes (and other active folks) find that kinesiology tape does not limit range of motion when it is applied over joints. This allows them to continue to train, play, and perform while wearing the tape.
Athletic trainers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other healthcare practitioners use kinesiology tape to address many issues such as: pain, injury recovery, injury prevention, range of motion concerns, and to enhance performance.
Clinical research suggests that kinesiology tape can effectively be used to decrease pain, increase circulation and improve lymph function, decrease inflammation, normalize muscle tone, improve movement and endurance while decreasing fatigue, and to inhibit or facilitate muscle recruitment or contraction. We’ll cover some of the clinical research later on in this article.
With this research to support its use, kinesiology tape has become pretty popular. Athletes wear it at sporting events, and now therapists use it more regularly in outpatient PT/OT clinics. In many cases it has taken the place of traditional athletic tapes.
Athletic Tape Vs. Kinesiology Tape
To understand the rise of kinesiology tape in the athletic world, we must first understand how it differs from traditional athletic tapes. Before kinesiology tape was developed, athletic trainers and therapists used athletic tapes to treat injuries and inability. This type of tape is rigid, provides support and stability, and restricts circulation when applied tightly over an area. This makes athletic tape useful when treating a sprained ankle or unstable joint, however one of the downsides of using rigid athletic tape is that it restricts range of motion. This leaves the athlete limited because of the lack of movement; and can sometimes lead to further injury.
Kinesiology tape, on the other hand, is an elastic tape. This allows it to provide support, improve range of motion, reduce pain, and increase circulation and lymph transport. Many athletes and trainers prefer kinesiology tape because it allows the joints to move in full ROM, as opposed to being restricted by traditional athletic taping. Many athletic trainers use kinesiology tape to improve an athlete’s performance by decreasing muscle fatigue, decreasing pain, improving strength, preventing injuries, and increasing fluid movement and lymphatic drainage.
How does Kinesiology Tape Work?
Let’s dive right into the fundamental theories of how kinesiology tape works and why it has become so popular among athletic trainers and therapists. We’ll go over the fundamental theories, then what the clinical evidence suggests. As I mentioned before, kinesiology tape derives most of its popularity from the way it affects muscles, nerves, and motor groups. Below are the current theories that describe kinesiology tape’s affects on the body.
Theory of how kinesiology tape affects the body
The current theories on how kinesiology tape affects the body relate to its proprioceptive effects. Proprioception is a fancy term for your awareness of your body’s position in space. It’s what keeps you from walking into walls.
The theories state that kinesiology tape facilitates proprioceptive input from the muscle, skin, and joint by stimulating mechanoreceptors when tape is applied from proximal to distal due to the stretch recoil of the tape. The theories also state that kinesiology tape inhibits proprioceptive and nociceptive (pain) input when the tape is applied from distal to proximal. Reducing nociceptive input to the brain helps to normalize tone .
The picture above demonstrates theory nicely. You can see that the tape, which is applied on the skin, creates sensory —or proprioceptive— input, which travels up the spinal cord and to the brain. The brain, in turn, up-regulates or down-regulates muscle groups, pain receptors, and normalizes muscle tone.
Another hypothesis is that kinesiology tape improves the balance between muscle spindles when there is disequilibrium or imbalances. Some suggest that kinesiology tape also helps remodel facia and facilitate optimal joint alignment through neuromuscular feedback provided by the stretch of the tape . That’s a lot of fancy words that basically say this type of tape helps your body regulate muscle tone so that the muscles are more in balance for posture and injury prevention.
KT Tape Creating “Lift” Among Dermal Layers
The last theory we will cover deals with the affects on kinesiology tape on the skin. Some evidence suggests that kinesiology tape helps reduce edema and facilitates healing by improving circulation and fluid movement to increase lymph transport. It does so by creating a “lift” or space in the dermal layers .
Another study summarizes the proposed affects of kinesiology tape with the following list, stating that kinesiology tape:
- Increases proprioception through constant cutaneous afferent stimulation through skin
- Realigns fascial tissue function by normalizing muscle tension
- Creates increased space to improve circulation and lymph flow by aiding in eliminating extra fluid, edema, or blood beneath skin
- Corrects muscle function my improving muscle strength
- Decreases pain by suppressing neurological input (gate theory) 
What does the Evidence Show?
All these theories and proposed affects means nothing if there is no evidence to support the claims. Luckily there have been many clinical studies completed on kinesiology tape and its various proposed uses and affects. I’ll highlight a few of the major findings and trends from the research literature, but feel free to go read the full articles (linked below).
A meta-analysis by Williams, et al. published in 2012 reports the following findings of studies that looked at using kinesiology tape for treatment of sports injuries :
- Pain: There were statistically significant changes in pain scores following K Tape application, however may not be clinically significant
- ROM: There may be a small beneficial effect on ROM in healthy individuals, however more research is needed.
- Strength: There is some evidence that K Tape has a beneficial effect on strength.
- Proprioception: Mixed results show need for further research.
- Muscle Activity: K Tape “was associated with a substantial change in muscle activity”
- Overall: KT may have beneficial effects, but more research with better methods is required.
What does this mean and how might it affect the way that your therapist will use kinesiology tape in your treatment? Your therapist may use kinesiology tape to help treat your pain, weakness, range of motion (ROM) limitations, and proprioception. Using kinesiology tape to affect muscle activity is also supported by the evidencel. This could include using the tape to facilitate appropriate muscle recruitment or postural alignment. Basically, your therapist may use the tape to help train certain muscles in your body to help with your posture or movement,
Another study focused on the “lift” affect of kinesiology tape and it’s role in improving circulation and lymph flow by
observing two trial groups. One group received standard physiotherapy after having surgery to the lower extremities. The second group received standard physiotherapy in conjunction with kinesiology taping. To quote the study, “The application of kinesiology taping in the study group produced a significantly faster reduction of the edema compared to standard lymphatic drainage.” . Basically, the group that had the kinesiology tape applied had their swelling go down faster.
Other studies show evidence to support using kinesiology tape to treat knee pain , low back pain , shoulder pain & impingement . The evidence supports using kinesiology tape to treat acute pain or as an “alternative treatment option when an immediate effect by shorter application durations is needed.”
All of this suggests that kinesiology tape may be a good tool to keep in the treatment toolbox. Many patients that come into our clinic request it, since it has become rather popular in the mainstream sporting events as of late. It also helps that the clinical research supports using it, especially when treating pain.
In the next part of this series, we’ll cover some common myths about kinesiology tape, indications/contraindications (AKA when to use it and when not to) for its use, and basic application fundamentals.
 An, Hyun Mo; Miller, Catherine Grove; McElveen, Michael; and Lynch, James M. (2012) “The Effect of Kinesio Tape® on Lower Extremity Functional Movement Screen™ Scores,”International Journal of Exercise Science: Vol. 5 : Iss. 3. https://digitalcommons.wku.edu/ijes/vol5/iss3/2/
 Bialoszewski, D., WoŸniak, W., & ¯arek, S. (2009). Clinical efficacy of Kinesiology Taping in Reducing Edema of the Lower Limbs in Patients Treated with the Ilizarov Method – Preliminary Report . MEDSPORTPRESS,11(1), 6th ser., 46-54. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19240683
 Campolo, M., PT, PhD, SCS, ATC, CSCS1. (2013) et al. A Comparison of Two Taping Techniques (Kinesio and McCinnell) and their Effect on Anterior Knee Pain During Functional Activities. The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy,8(2), 105-110. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3625789/
 Chen, P. L., Hong, W. H., Lin, C. H., & Chen, W. C. (2008). Biomechanics Effects of Kinesio Taping for Persons with Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome During Stair Climbing. IFMBE Proceedings 4th Kuala Lumpur International Conference on Biomedical Engineering 2008,21, 395-397. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-69139-6_100
 Desjardins‐Charbonneau, A., Roy, J., Dionne, C. E., & Desmeules, F. (2015). THE EFFICACY OF TAPING FOR ROTATOR CUFF TENDINOPATHY: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW AND META‐ANALYSIS. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 10(4), 420–433. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26346114
 Halseth T, McChesney JW, DeBeliso M, Vaughn R, Lien J. The Effects of Kinesio Taping on Proprioception at the Ankle. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2004;3(1):1-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3896108/
 Drouin, J., McAlpine, C., Primak, K., & Kisse, J. (2013). The effects of kinesiotape on athletic-based performance outcomes in healthy, active individuals: a literature synthesis. Journal of Canadian Chiropractic Association,57(4), 356-365. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3845470/
 Kaya, E., Zinnuroglu, M., & Tugcu, I. (2010). Kinesio taping compared to physical therapy modalities for the treatment of shoulder impingement syndrome. Clinical Rheumatology,30(2), 201-207. doi:10.1007/s10067-010-1475-6
 Paoloni, M., Bernetti, A., Fratocchi, G., & Mangone, M. (2011). Kinesio Taping Applied to Lumbar Muscles Influences Clinical and Electromyographic Characteristics in Chronic Low Back Pain Patients. European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine,47(2), 237-244. http://www.kinesiotaping.no/omoss/forskning/frontpage/paoloni_et_al_2011_kt_og_lbp.pdf
 Schneider, M., ATC, LAT, CSCS, Rhea, M., PhD, & Bay, C., PhD. (2010). The Effect of Kinesio Tex Tape on Muscular Strength of the Forearm Extensors on Collegiate Tennis Athletes. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Matthew_Rhea/publication/265623349_The_Effect_of_Kinesio_Tex_Tape_on_Muscular_Strength_of_the_Forearm_Extensors_on_Collegiate_Tennis_Athletes/links/5660de7308ae418a78668d12/The-Effect-of-Kinesio-Tex-Tape-on-Muscular-Strength-of-the-Forearm-Extensors-on-Collegiate-Tennis-Athletes.pdf
 Shakeri, H., Keshavarz, R., Arab, A. M., & Ebrahimi, I. (2013). CLINICAL EFFECTIVENESS OF KINESIOLOGICAL TAPING ON PAIN AND PAIN‐FREE SHOULDER RANGE OF MOTION IN PATIENTS WITH SHOULDER IMPINGEMENT SYNDROME: A RANDOMIZED, DOUBLE BLINDED, PLACEBO‐CONTROLLED TRIAL. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 8(6), 800–810. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3867073/
 Williams, S., Whatman, C., Hume, P., & Sheerin, K. (2012). Kinesio Taping in Treatment and Prevention of Sports Injuries A Meta-Analysis of the Evidence for its Effectiveness. Sports Medicine,42(2), 153-164. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22124445