Brilliantly colored patterns of tape swathing portions of athletes’ bodies have become a common sight these days. This tape, known as Kinesiology tape and is growing in popularity day by day. Unlike traditional athletic tape that is intended to restrict the movement of injured body parts, Kinesiology tape is intended to promote movement and relieve pain in injured body parts. Many athletes report it works very well—hence the reason for its widespread popularity. Its proponents claim it lifts the skin and fascia overlying muscles, improving circulation and speeding healing of injuries. Although this is considered an exciting new breakthrough in sports, many still question how effective it really is. Does Kinesiology tape really work, or is this all in our heads?
Does it Relieve Pain?
A systematic review of Kinesiology tape was published in May 2014, identifying a total of 13 published studies. This particular review only looked at the impact of kinesiology tape on pain due to musculoskeletal injury. It concluded the tape might have some very limited ability to relieve pain, however this was skewed for individuals with injuries.
Does it Improve Function?
A systematic review of the impact of Kinesiology tape on function following an injury was published in October 2013. The authors of the review identified nine studies of Kinesiology tape used to treat musculoskeletal injury. They concluded the tape might have had a short-term impact on pain, but there was no long-term impact on pain. There was also no measurable impact of the tape on range of motion or muscle strength, either in the short term or the long term. In these cases, the tape didn’t seem to speed up the healing process at all.
Does it have a Placebo Effect?
Most experts struggle to come up with a rationale for why tape placed on the skin might be beneficial in any way. Most of the muscles and tendons involved in sports and injuries are located deep within the skin, and it is difficult to identify a mechanism whereby tape on the skin can affect the deeper structures.
On the other hand, the placebo effect is known to be very powerful in its global effects on pain and function. According to professionals at Ohio University who provide a masters in coaching psychology, applying the tape might mentally prepare the athlete for action. If the athlete thinks it will relieve pain and improve function, then via the placebo effect, the tape will indeed relieve pain and improve function. The brilliant colors and need to precisely apply a specific pattern of tape may also enhance the tape’s ability to induce a placebo effect.
The Bottom Line
There is no evidence that Kinesiology tape actually does anything other than induce a placebo effect. However, the placebo effect is very powerful and should not be dismissed, particularly in sporting events. The mental attitude of an athlete is often the most important factor in who wins. Regardless of previous findings, there will no doubt be further testing and research in the future that may eventually prove the positive effects of Kinesiology tape.