Updated: May 11, 2021
KINESIOLOGY TAPING IS THE CURRENT BUZZWORD IN THE FIELD OF SPORTS MEDICINE, WRITES REGISTERED OSTEOPATH JOHN GIBBONS
Brightly coloured tape is now a common sight at most major sporting events and anyone that is involved with assessing, treating and rehabilitating sports-related injuries, or even back and neck pain will need to have the skill of taping.
Castro-Sanchez et al (2012) studied the effects of kinesiology taping in reducing disability and pain in chronic non-specific low-back pain. They found that individuals experienced significant improvements, immediately after the application of kinesiology taping in the following categories: disability, pain, and isometric endurance of the trunk muscles.
Origins of kinesiology taping
In the 1970s, a Japanese chiropractor called Dr Kenzo Kase brought the technique to the international arena. He was the first person to have the idea of applying a new type of taping method, which subsequently led to a new form of sports tape. Kase wanted to develop a taping system that would naturally assist in the healing of damaged tissue by encouraging lymphatic drainage and at the same time providing support to the joints and muscles without causing a restriction to the range of motion.
How does it work?
Kinesiology taping has been clinically shown to help with the natural response to inflammation as it targets different receptors within the somatosensory system (sensory systems associated with the body – includes skin senses and proprioception and the internal organs).
Correct application of the kinesiology tape will help alleviate pain and encourage the facilitation of lymphatic drainage by microscopically lifting the skin. This lifting effect helps create distortions in the skin, thus allowing for a decrease in the inflammatory process for the affected areas.
Additionally, kinesiology taping helps with the following:
• Provides support for weak or injured muscles without affecting the normal range of motion. This allows full participation in therapeutic exercises and sports training and minimises the risk of developing compensatory imbalances or injuries
• Stabilises the area without restricting the movement like conventional athletics tape
• The athlete can remain active during the sport or activity
• Relaxes, and can offload, overused and overstrained muscles
• Accelerates blood flow to the injured area to speed up the healing process
• Helps to reduce pain
• Reduces oedema – a form of swelling – by removal of lymphatic fluid
• Can enhance performance and endurance
• Helps prevent injury
• Always check for a history of allergies to tape adhesives
• Cleanse skin from any oil, cream and massage wax and trim hair if needed
• Measure and cut the tape into the size and shape required
• Round off the corners at the end of each tape to prevent it from lifting or peeling
• Never stretch the ends of the tape and always leave around 2–3cm of tape at each end that will remain unstretched. Leaving no stretch at the ends of the kinesiology tape will avoid a “shearing” type of tension to the skin and will limit any potential for irritation as the tape is normally kept on for at least a few days.
Pre-stretch and tape application
Before the kinesiology tape is applied to the area that is injured, guide and place the soft tissue of your patient, such as the muscle, into a position that will cause the tissue to be naturally stretched. Prior to applying the kinesiology tape, expose the adhesive side of the tape so that it can be attached to the specific body area. It is natural to want to peel off the backing from the tape – however, this process is not needed as the tape can simply be torn across one of the squares on the back. This tearing will not damage the kinesiology tape, as only the backing will be removed.
Apply a prepared ‘I’ or ‘Y’ strip to the pre-stretched tissue of the body, with little to no stretch of the tape on first application. This technique will help stabilise the area.
Two injuries fairly common to athletes include medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints) and patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS).
Treating shin splints
Athletes can often have pain that can be localised to the lower medial aspect of the tibia, especially straight after or during sporting activity. The condition starts as an irritation of the outer lining of the bone called the periosteum and can lead to periostitis. The muscles that are normally responsible for this type of pain at the medial aspect of the tibia are the tibialis posterior, flexor digitorum longus and flexor hallucis longus, as shown in figure 1.
Figure 1: Periostitis/shin splints of the medial border of the tibia as well as the associated muscles
If left untreated, the medial tibia can stress the bone and eventually lead to a stress fracture. In the worst case, if this injury is neglected, a posterior compartment syndrome can develop and a surgical fasciotomy to reduce the pressure within the myofascial compartment might be recommended.
The patient adopts a long sitting position and is instructed to dorsiflex their ankle and evert their foot to place the tibialis posterior on stretch. Apply an ‘I’ strip from just below the medial malleolus and ideally attach the tape from the navicular bone. Apply the tape with little to no stretch. Follow the medial shin so that the area of pain is covered as shown in figure 2.
Figure 2: first application of the tape starting from the navicular bone to the medial tibia
Apply a ‘Y’ strip and start posterior to the pain with a 75% stretch to each tail of the tape. Apply across the hotspot of the painful area as shown in figure 3. You can activate the stickiness of the glue, by rubbing and warming the tape briskly.
Figure 3: second application of the tape starting slightly posterior to the pain
Treating patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)
Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is a painful condition that can relate to a type of mal-tracking of the kneecap (when the muscles pull the patella tendon in different directions) (see figure 4). This condition has many causes, such as an overpronation of the subtalar joint (STJ) of the ankle and poor foot biomechanics. Weakness of the inner quadriceps muscle can also contribute to PFPS, especially the vastus medialis oblique (VMO) fibres, which are thought to atrophy due to pain and minimal swelling. In addition, weak gluteus medius and gluteus maximus can cause this type of knee pain. The knee joint is therefore what I refer to as “a weak link in the kinetic chain” and typically the presentation of the pain is not where the problem lies.
Figure 4: patellofemoral pain syndrome is one of the most commonly treated conditions with some form of strapping and taping
The patient is asked to adopt a long sitting position with their knee at 90° of flexion. Next attach a ‘Y’ strip from the superior aspect of the patella and apply the tape, with no stretch, to the medial and lateral sides of the patella. Finish by crossing over the tibial tuberosity as in figure 5.
Figure 5: first application of the ‘Y’ strip starting from the superior aspect of the patella and finishing at the tibial tuberosity
Apply a ‘Y’ strip from the tibial tuberosity and lay the tape medially and laterally around the patella so that it overlaps the first ‘Y’ application. Apply with little to no stretch and finish near the quadriceps tendon - see figure 6. Heat to activate the glue and once the glue has been heat-activated lower the limb back down to the couch and observe the “wrinkling” of the tape.
Figure 6: the second application of the ‘Y’ strip starts from the tibial tuberosity and finishing at the starting point of the first application
This illustrates the effect the kinesiology tape is having on the underlying soft tissues through its unique lifting motion.