Monday, December 9, 2013

Kinesio Therapeutic (KT) Tape - Does it Work?

At the ripe old age of 19, I was walking my dog through a park with my then-boyfriend. My pup had only two bad habits (the boyfriend had quite a few):  (1) If she spotted a squirrel she became a complete lunatic, writhing and jumping, attempting to get it; and (2) if she did actually get loose, she was prone to not coming when called, creating long searches to find her. On this particular trip to the park, I decided to try and jog with her as she was so full of energy. It started off just fine, but she soon spotted a squirrel at which point things took a turn for the worse. The only thing running through my mind was "don't let go of the dog," so it should come as no surprise that after a short distance of attempting to keep up with the sprinting sheepdog, I went flying through the air and landed with all my weight on one knee. The good news was, I didn't lose the dog. The bad was that I couldn't walk. Fortunately, my boyfriend (who was in hysterics watching this all go down) quickly realized I was injured and sought help. I ended up on crutches for a time, but I healed up over the weeks that followed and I thought that would be the end of that.

Unfortunately, it wasn't. As I got a little older, I would notice small aches in the knee. As time went on, if I sat too long in stadium or airplane seating, there was pretty severe pain, and every once in awhile I would somehow randomly re-injure the knee during other activities. Today, the knee is in almost constant (though varying levels) of pain. It's not to a state that would require surgery, but it can cause severe problems when running, and sometimes even when trying to ride a bike.  I've attempted to brace it with a wrap or bandage in the past when it acts up, but braces seems to limit mobility and they doesn't always help the problem. So, several months ago while perusing the local REI, I saw some KT tape and thought it might be worth a try. I had seen professional athletes using this on various parts of the body and thought if it worked, why not try it?

KT tape has actually been used for decades unbeknownst to me. Invented by a Japanese chiropractor in the 1970s, the claim is that it eliminates pain, reduces inflammation, relaxes muscles, helps with rehabilitation and enhances performance. After opening the package, I was skeptical that this could actually do anything to help as it is quite flimsy and feels a bit like an over-sized band aid. The package I bought was separated into individual strips of about 10 inches, but it can be purchased in uncut rolls as well. It can be found in both synthetic and cotton varieties, and I've heard and read both pros and cons of each. Not wanting to put the tape on incorrectly, I looked for videos on how to apply it, as it varies from one part of the body to the next. There are lots of videos out on the web to illustrate how to do this, but the one below illustrates how to apply for the knee.


The first time I used this tape, I was having a particularly bad knee day. I was supposed to go and run, but I wasn't certain my knee was ready to endure anything more than a gimpy walk for a few minutes. I decided to pull out the KT tape and see if it would do anything. After applying the tape, I stood up to walk around, and the twinge I was feeling with every step prior to applying the tape had disappeared. I shrugged and thought perhaps it was just a tweak I'd done when I got up, and not actually the tape, so I went out to run and was able to complete the planned 45 minute time without issue. Perplexed, I started looking up how KT tape works.

Medical professionals seem to be quite divided on the usefulness of this product, and according to Web MD, there is "...little quality evidence to support the use of kinesio tape over other types of elastic taping..." Most of the research seems to indicate that it is merely a placebo effect taking place and that there aren't any real benefits to using the product. However, those who support this taping have other thoughts. One explanation is as follows: Imagine a strained calf muscle. Old-school taping methods would dictate wrapping tape around the entire lower leg -- calf, shin, tibia, fibula and all -- almost like a mummy. While that would prevent further strain by immobilizing the injured muscle, it would also impede circulation and slow down the body's natural healing process. Kinesiology taping takes the opposite approach, using the tape to open up the muscle and allow full movement. Kinesiology tape is applied on top of an injured or strained area to stabilize it, but care is always taken to ensure that a muscle or tendon is never encircled with a ring of tape. As you move, the tape, skin and connective tissue (or fascia) over the muscle or tendon also move, pulling slightly away from the muscle and creating space for lymphatic fluid to flow around and cleanse the inflamed tissue.

*Image found here
I was surprised that even with my skepticism and expecting to have wasted my money, the tape actually seemed to do something. Since that first round, I've used it many times and each time I apply it, the pain that is preventing me from even walking normally disappears and I can run without pain (well, at least without pain associated with the knee injury). It should be mentioned that this tape is not intended to treat or cure any problems (meaning that if you do require medical assistance or surgery, you should definitely still get that help), but it seems to work nicely for those recovering, in physical therapy, or with injuries that don't completely take them out of their sport.

One of my issues with this tape is that it isn't cheap, particularly if it's being used on a regular basis. Taping my knee, for instance, requires three pieces (and there are 20 in the precut rolls), so it doesn't last very long. Additionally, although many different brands state that it can be used for multiple days, rarely does the tape stay on longer than the duration of a two hour workout. By the time I'm sweating profusely, the adhesive is weak and starts to lose its sticking power, so there's no way it would stay on through showers and day-to-day happenings. A quick search of Amazon turns up a slew of brands to try, at varying prices. Reviewers debate the different types and brands, and there are always those who say it does nothing for them; but those who insist it works - and that it works well - are ever present as well.

My theory has been, even if it is a placebo effect, if it takes away my pain and allows me to do the activities I need and want to do, it's worth it. I have a difficult time believing that there isn't something actually beneficial taking place though, as I can go from limping to running in a matter of moments. If you've had an opportunity to try this tape on an injury, what was your experience? I would love to know if others have found it beneficial, or if you found it to be a waste of money.

3 comments:

  1. Like you, I was skeptical of the tape when it was recommended by a Chiropractor. Remarkably it does seem to help. I use the tape to prevent pain from chronic IT-Band pain. Not sure what/how/why the tape is doing, but I'll keep using it as it works!

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  2. I also have a problem keeping even the water proof kt tape on my feet. They make a spray that is supposed to help and anti-humidity hairspray is sometimes used too but I haven't tried either yet for fear it would attract bugs when I run outside. What has helped me keep it in if waiting for the glue to "set" for about 30 minutes before exercising or sweating and wearing socks constantly. You could try taller socks for your knee or just covering it with an ace bandage too.

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    Replies
    1. Good to know! Thanks for your thoughts.

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