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Ep. #1133: What Does Kinesiology Tape Do and Does It Really Work?


Hello, hello, and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I am your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for a relatively short but informative exploration of kinesiology tape. What is it? What is it good for? What is it not good for? And by the way, just so you know what the word means, kinesiology is simply the scientific study of body movement, of the mechanics of how the body moves.

And the reason I wanted to record this episode is, I haven’t spoken about this at all. I think I’ve written about it over at legionathletics.com over on the blog, but I have not spoken about it. And it is something that I do get asked about, especially over the last couple of years or so, because as KT Tape, as it’s often called, has gained traction in sports medicine.

In physical therapy, it has also become more prevalent and more popular among influencers, particularly mobility and flexibility influencers, and influencers who, I guess you could say, might call themselves exercise hackers, who promote unusual, exotic types of exercises and exercise routines as effective, or more effective than traditional exercise, and so forth.

And so, as a consequence of all that, we are now seeing more and more everyday fitness folk taping themselves up before they work out, or sometimes after they work out, sometimes on their active recovery days, and so on. And thus, I thought it might be helpful to record a quick episode on KT Tape, and to go through the research on its purported benefits, so you can understand whether you should consider mummy wrapping yourself.

Okay, so let’s start with a brief definition of terms here. What is kinesiology tape? It’s also called Kinesio tape or KT tape. And it’s simply a strong and stretchy tape, an adhesive tape that you can stick to your body or stick to other things. And it’s used typically in sports medicine. It’s used in physical therapy.

It’s usually latex free. It’s usually water resistant. It’s often made from cotton and Nylon and unlike traditional athletic tapes that tend to be thick and restrictive, KT tape is uniquely flexible and so that allows limbs that are taped up or allows your joints to move through a full range of motion while experiencing elevated levels of tension.

Produced by the taping. Now, what is that supposed to do exactly? Why might that be good? Well, the most common theory is that when you stretch the tape and then you apply it to your body, it exerts a suction like force that lifts the skin, and it creates space between your skin and the tissues underneath.

And proponents of that theory will say that it produces three benefits. One, it can help create space in your joints. So applying the tape to the joints may increase the space in that joint, which then can prevent bones and tendons and other soft tissues from rubbing together and causing pain. Another purported benefit is that KT taping can increase circulation and lymphatic drainage.

And by doing those things, In turn, you can experience reduced swelling and reduced fluid buildup in the taped areas of your body. And finally, the third benefit, uh, at least theoretical benefit of KT tape is that it can alter pain signals. And how this may work is by alleviating the compression that’s caused by swelling, because swelling compresses receptors in your skin and that then sends signals to your brain that are interpreted as pain.

And if you tape some area of your body, it’s lifting the skin away from the tissues underneath, which can relieve the compression and thereby relieve the pain. And so that’s basically how KT tape is supposed. to work. But what does the scientific research have to say? Well, let’s start with muscle and joint stability.

Common claims made to common marketing claims made to sell KT tape. And the idea here is that the tape is sturdy. It’s stretchy. You put it on your body in certain ways and that can then support muscles that are fatigued. It can support unstable joints, so they move more efficiently and effectively. And there is some merit here.

For instance, in one study, researchers found that the elasticity of kinesiology tape acted like a rubber band when applied to runners’ thighs, helping them maintain their stride length when fatigued. You can experience a similar effect. with knee sleeves when you’re squatting, which I generally like to use not for this rebound effect, which has been shown in research, by the way, these sleeves do appear to slightly improve squat performance.

And one of the reasons is probably because of the rebound effect that you experience as you are coming out of the hole, but that’s not. necessarily why I wear them. I wear them just because my knees feel more comfortable throughout my workout when I’m wearing the sleeves. Maybe there’s a little bit of a placebo effect there, but there also is warmth.

So the knee sleeves keep your joints, keep your knees warm, and that feels better when you’re squatting heavy in particular than if your knees are kind of cooling off in between sets. And the sleeves also do make my knees just feel More stable. They feel rock solid when I’m squatting, especially when I’m squatting heavy.

And that’s not to say that knee sleeves are essential or that squatting heavy without knee sleeves is dangerous or even non optimal. I just like how my knees feel best. when I am wearing knee sleeves. So I will usually wear knee sleeves when I am training my lower body. But anyway, coming back to KT tape, the idea here is similar in that you have this elastic tape that has some energy that it absorbs when you are moving your limbs through full ranges of motion.

And that Then can support the activity that you’re doing. In this case, it’s running, but you could have similar effects with other types of exercises. And if we look at other studies on the matter, we see that Kinesio tape can help support injured joints, helping people move their injured joints more freely.

And that can then help them recover faster because, of course, the number one key to recovering from an injury. is movement is exercise. It’s not resting and icing and immobilizing and just waiting for the injury to magically disappear. That generally does not work. Sometimes you do need to apply some ice and some rest and some immobilization, but you want to get back to activity as soon as you can.

Now, of course, you don’t want to get back to activities that are going to aggravate the injury or reactivate the injury. So you have to go about it. But, generally speaking, movement is what helps heal, not immobilization. And so then, KT Tape appears to be helpful in this regard because it can help you move the injured.

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Okay, next on my list is proprioception, which is a 10 word that simply means your body’s ability to sense its position and its movements without relying on sight. And this is particularly valuable to athletes because, of course, when you’re playing sports, if you understand intuitively where your body is in space and how it’s moving, that can help you play the sport better.

It can help you prevent injury. injuries and some scientists believe that the pressure and the stretching effects of KT tape activate receptors on your skin that then relay movement and position data to the brain and that that can heighten proprioception and thereby improve performance and reduce injury risk.

So basically, the idea here is that by taping your body in certain places and in certain ways, you are priming your nervous system to send this proprioception related data more effectively to the brain. And that then can result in heightened proprioception benefits related to that. Now, if we look at research on this, we see mixed results.

There’s some evidence that suggests that it does indeed improve proprioception, and then there’s evidence that it does not. So it’s hard to say, because the weight of the evidence is fairly balanced, however, there is a signal here. It does appear to possibly improve proception in some people, in some circumstances, and so if that is of any use to you, then it may work.

And it may not, but it’s not going to hurt. And the claims that it can, that KT Tape can improve proprioception are not wholly unfounded. And I mentioned earlier the purported mechanism whereby it can do this, which is pulling the skin away from the tissues underneath, which then can relieve compression, which can send signals to the brain that are interpreted as pain.

And if we look at research on this theory. It’s also mixed. It’s conflicting. Some studies show that KT tape does appear to have a positive effect on pain and others show that it offers no advantages. However, there’s no research to suggest that it has any negative effects in terms of pain. It’s not going to make pain worse.

It appears to be able to either make pain better to mitigate pain or have no effect whatsoever. Now, one possible explanation for this contradiction in the research is that KT tape may be able to relieve pain in some muscles and joints, but not others. So, for example, studies show that KT tape can alleviate pain caused by neck, trap, and knee injuries or delayed onset muscle soreness, DOMS, post workout muscle soreness.

However, its effectiveness for reducing pain is less consistent. for lower back problems. And so then if you are dealing with pain involving your neck, involving your upper back, involving your knees, possibly your elbows and other joints, or if you are maybe an athlete and you have to do a lot of training, so much so that DOMS is, is just a problem you’re always dealing with.

Maybe you have to do two days for an extended period of time. Or maybe you have to do a fair amount of intense weightlifting and intense practice for your sport. Again, you are experiencing rather excessive amounts of muscle soreness. Then KT taping may be able to help. All right, next is swelling, which is related to pain for reasons I’ve already explained, but I wanted to make a separate note of it because a number of studies have looked at swelling in particular and the majority of the research shows that KT tape does appear to be beneficial in this regard, that it does appear to be able to There’s a lot of stuff that you can do to reduce swelling and so that helps explain why it also appears to be able to help alleviate pain.

So if you’re dealing with swelling of areas of your body, maybe it’s not so much pain, but it’s swelling, KT Tape should be able to help. Now, let’s talk about strength, which is another one of the big hot marketing buttons used to sell KT tape. There is a theory that by taping your body, you can pull on the fascia, which is the thin casing of connective tissue that’s surrounding the muscles in your body.

And if you do that, you can increase your body’s ability to contract the muscle underneath. And that, of course, then will. improve your strength will improve your muscular performance. And so that’s a theory that some scientists believe. However, the weight of the evidence doesn’t support it, unfortunately, at least it currently does not.

So if you look at research done on KT tape with people with muscle fatigue and chronic musculoskeletal diseases, we see that there’s some evidence of efficacy. There’s some evidence. that it can increase strength in these people, but there are other studies that show that it does not increase strength in those people.

And more importantly, if we look at the research that has been done with people who are healthy, who don’t have any musculoskeletal problems, we see that KT tape does not appear to improve strength. And so. If you have healthy muscles, it is almost certainly not going to help you bench, squat, or deadlift more weight.

Now, what about flexibility? Can KT tape help you improve your flexibility? Well, studies that have been done on people with sports injuries or conditions like osteoarthritis, cerebral palsy, whiplash, and shoulder pain typically have shown that taping can promote flexibility. It can help you move those affected.

joints and muscles through longer ranges of motion. As I mentioned earlier. Now, how it achieves this is unclear, but experts have proposed two theories. One is by improving blood flow to the affected areas, which can speed up recovery. And two is by improving proprioception, which can reduce the fear of moving an injured joint or muscle.

And it also can help your brain allow you to move the injured joint or muscle. Which, by the way, is what is really happening when you are improving your body’s flexibility. You are actually training your brain to allow you to move your limbs through those fuller ranges of motion. Anyway, coming back to flexibility, unfortunately, almost all of the research that has been done on KT Tape and flexibility has been done with people who have very severe health issues, not healthy people.

And so, if you are a healthy person with a well functioning body, it’s unclear Whether KT Tape can improve flexibility, it may, it may not. It’s not going to hurt though. So if that’s a reason for you to consider KT Tape, if that is a benefit that you are after, try it out and see how it goes. Now what about athletic performance?

Can KT Tape alone make you better at your sport? Can it help you perform better at some sporting activity? People who Cell KT tape often say yes, because it’s going to improve your body awareness and it’s going to support your joints and muscles. And while, as we have discussed, there is evidence to support some of those claims individually, a research review conducted by scientists at the University of Mississippi Medical Center found no compelling evidence that kinesiology tape enhances sports Performance and while the research available to the scientists on this point for them to review is limited and maybe the topic could benefit from more research on more specific nuanced questions about how KT tape may be able to improve very specific aspects of athletic performance or specific aspects under specific circumstances.

The weight of the evidence that we have says probably not going to help in any meaningful way. And this is an important example of understanding that just because there’s evidence to support the individual components of a theory, that doesn’t mean that the theory is true. That doesn’t mean that the evidence supports the theory.

And so in this case, while there’s research to show that KT tape can support the muscles, can support the joints, can enhance proprioception, and while it’s reasonable to theorize that those things could improve athletic performance, that’s still just a theory until proven. And so far, the evidence suggests that it is an incorrect theory.

Okay, lastly, I would like to comment on injury prevention. This is popular with athletes in particular who are willing to try just about anything to reduce the risk of injury, which is understandable. And while again, the theory of how KT tape may be able to reduce the risk of injury is plausible, supporting muscles, supporting joints, improving proprioception.

Once again, a systematic review of research through that lens suggests that it does not. Specifically, a meta-analysis that was published in the journal Sports Medicine found that kinesiology tape is ineffective at preventing injuries. Now, despite that, some experts do maintain that KT tape does appear to reduce the risk of injury in some people, in some cases, and that may be true, but it appears to be generally ineffective in this regard, and so that’s important to understand.

If you are going to use KT tape, uh, in hopes of reducing the risk of injury, uh, it would be a mistake to think that you are less likely to be injured because you have tape on your body and then because of that, be more inclined to do more extreme things in your training. Things that will Raise the risk of injury a lot more than any possible mitigating effect that is provided by the KT tape.

And I’ve seen that mistake many times over the years with weightlifting belts in particular. I’ve seen many, many people, usually guys, wearing a weightlifting belt, thinking that simply wearing the weightlifting belt is going to greatly reduce the risk of injury. And then Squatting and deadlifting, sometimes overhead pressing, but usually squatting and deadlifting way too much weight, way more weight than they can properly handle, which of course dramatically increases the risk of injury, regardless of whether you are wearing a belt or not.

In fact, research shows that even when it’s used properly, a weightlifting belt doesn’t reduce the risk of injury nearly as much as improved performance. That’s primarily what it’s doing when it’s used properly. It can improve your performance, particularly on the squat, on the deadlift, on the overhead press, but it is not going to reduce your risk of injury.

You reduce your risk of injury by using proper form and appropriate loads. And if you want to learn more about that in particular, weightlifting belts, how they work, how to use them properly, when to use them, when not to use them, head over to legionathletics.com, search for weightlifting belt, two words, and you’ll find an article that I wrote on it.

Okay, so coming back to KT Tape, we do see that it It has some utility if you are training a lot and you are dealing with a lot of muscle soreness, a lot of muscle fatigue. If you are injured and you want to improve the stability of your joints, if you want to enhance proprioception, maybe because you are training for a sport and generally speaking better proprioception is better for sports than worse proprioception, especially when you are learning the.

Complicated movements involved in many sports, if you’re dealing with pain again, particularly pain that’s caused by your neck or your upper back muscles or pain in your knees, if you’re dealing with swelling, if you want to improve flexibility, although, as we remember, that one is uncertain, but possible, those are all valid Reasons to at least try KT taping because it’s easy to do it’s inexpensive and it’s not going to hurt The worst case scenario is it just doesn’t do anything, but it’s not going to hurt now as for how to do it I could talk about that but Seeing it is going to help you a lot more.

So head over to YouTube and check out the channel KT Tape videos. That’s a great resource for learning how to KT Tape all the various parts of your body for various reasons. So they have videos by muscle group. They have videos by areas of the body. So maybe the top of your foot, for example, they have videos for joints.

So maybe your hip or your SI joint or your thumb joint. They also have videos for certain conditions like tennis elbow. Great resource. Again, KT Tape videos. And I’m not being paid by them to say that. I’ve never even spoken to them. I just like their videos. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful.

And if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes and it also helps me. because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you and if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general or if you have Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share, shoot me an email, [email protected] muscle F O R life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future. I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode and I hope to hear from you soon.





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