Kinesiology Tape Myths and Mythbusters

by Dr. Phil on September 4, 2019

By Phil Page, PhD, PT, ATC, CSCS, FACSM

NOTE: I wrote this article 2 years ago. It was removed from the original site I wrote it for because it made some people uncomfortable, but I’m pulling it out of the laptop. I’m disappointed that the media and even ‘healthcare professionals’ continue to propagate myths and untruths about kinesiology tape. That’s not doing anyone good! Kinesiology tape DOES work in some patients, so let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! If you’re interested in more science behind my article, listen to my free webinar about Kinesiology Taping Myths here.

A recent blog post that tried to clear up misconceptions about kinesiology tape unfortunately perpetuated them. While the mechanisms in the article sound ‘scientific,’ the scientific proof is what’s lacking in the article, and it’s all the same stuff we’ve heard for years. (Interestingly, while the article was touting ‘science’, there were no scientific references!)

Unfortunately, everything you’ve been taught about kinesiology taping is probably wrong. Why?

Pseudoscience.

It’s not all your fault, though. There are several reasons why these kinesiology taping myths continue to linger; mainly because the ‘mechanisms’ behind kinesiology taping were essentially fabricated to substantiate the need to provide materials for training and certification—made to look more technical than it really is.

It’s easy to claim something using scientific logic or ‘biologic plausibility,’ simply waiting until good science proves otherwise (ie “pseudoscience”).  It’s easy to simply quote some guru or textbook without thinking twice, or even worse, simply believe a manufacturer’s claims. In today’s era of “information overload,” we generally believe what we’re told. (Bonjour!)

On the flip side, it’s hard to keep up with the literature…10 to 15 new articles on kinesiology tape continue to be published every month! And then it’s hard to interpret the literature. There are over 600 published studies on kinesiology taping (I didn’t say they were all good, though!). So, what’s a hard-working well-intended clinician supposed to do?

The issue is compounded by the fact that published studies are generally done on healthy populations with many different techniques and brands of tape. There’s a big gap in the literature on patient populations, specific techniques, and the mechanisms behind kinesiology tape.

We’ve been following the Pied Piper.

What’s worse, clinicians are attending these training and ‘certification’ courses (because they’ve been conned into thinking they need to be certified to slap some tape on someone) …without any basis of evidence.

I recently saw an online course for kinesiology taping. I looked at the references. What did I see? Not one journal article. Texts and presentation references often hide the scientific truth. It seems they even are cherry-picking secondary sources of evidence!

Years ago, I asked kinesiology taping instructors for a reason why they thought the direction the tape application would facilitate or inhibit a muscle. The reply from the instructors generally was, “That’s what Kenzo Kase said.” (he’s the guy who started the Kinesio Taping fad).

Blindly following without questioning the evidence.

By the way, we still don’t have good proof that direction of the tape can facilitate or inhibit muscle activation, particularly since the dozen or so studies looking at the influence of kinesiology tape direction use different techniques on healthy subjects.

It’s time we stop judging the effectiveness of kinesiology tape by using studies on healthy subjects! Kinesiology tape benefits those with deficits, whereas healthy subjects have no room to improve. That’s called a “ceiling effect” in research.

Despite a lack of hard evidence, clinicians and patients will swear by kinesiology tape. Let’s face it. It works (in some people). There’s got to be something to it, even if it is just placebo effect (that’s a whole other story). But it’s time to cut the bull about using ‘science’ to explain how it works.

What really grinds my gears is when people bastardize true science with ‘pseudoscience’ to try and sell you something. I prefer to see the evidence myself and then make an informed decision.

So, let’s really get you up to speed with the current state of science behind kinesiology taping.

It’s not mechanical.

We don’t know exactly how it works (and some will argue that we don’t know if it actually works!), but science is slowly catching up and may change the way you look at kinesiology taping. Unfortunately, these myths are still taught today despite evidence to the contrary.

The main mechanism claimed in its efficacy is the ‘lifting of the skin’ from convolutions in the tape, which subsequently increases blood flow and relieves pressure on underlying tissues. I’ll show you that convolutions have nothing to do with outcomes, and thus nothing to do with the mechanism of action, in 3 swings of the bat.

First of all, there is no evidence (at least in English) that kinesiology tape ‘mechanically lifts’ or ‘compresses’ the skin; nor is there proof of “decompressing the tissues beneath where the tape is applied.” In fact, a study showed that kinesiology tape doesn’t lift the skin or increase the area under the skin (Lyman et al. 2017) (Strike 1).

So, lifting the skin likely isn’t the ‘mechanism’ behind increased circulation, particularly since one study shows that skin microcirculation increases with kinesiology tape regardless of tension or convolutions (Craighead et al. 2017). The mechanism behind the increased skin blood flow is not clear.

Notice that this study found circulation is increased in the skin. We don’t know about circulation under the skin. That’s where the theoretical changes in circulation are thought to take place that facilitate lymphatic flow. Despite claims that kinesiology tape increase blood flow to the tissues, no studies have confirmed this.

And those fancy patterns you see with the ‘fan’ taping after bruising? Kinesiology tape must be reducing swelling, right? Those “dramatic changes in inflammation and bruising”?

Not so fast my friend.

While we have seen those cool pictures, it’s not all black and blue. Vercelli and colleagues found no better resolution of hematomas with kinesiology tape, regardless of tension or the presence of convolutions. (Strike 2)

It’s likely that the patterns you see where the tape was applied to the skin had an effect by facilitating skin blood flow, quickly moving the chemicals that cause the discoloration out of the skin. But resolving the ecchymosis doesn’t mean the swelling is reduced below the skin.

In fact, another study on acute ankle sprains found no difference in swelling reduction with or without kinesiology tape applied after injury (Nunes et al. 2015). And the jury is still out on its efficacy on chronic swelling like lymphedema; the few studies out there are mixed on the results, and use different techniques.

Don’t be deceived into believing something from a photo…

In fact, I think pictures helped us get into this mess. Photos of athletes wearing kinesiology tape at the Olympics. (Can’t wait to see how ‘cupping’ works out for everyone now!) I certainly didn’t learn some of those patterns when I became a “certified kinesiotape practitioner”.

And by the way, many of those athletes wearing the tape are PAID to do it. It’s not helping their performance or pain.

The only real outcome of kinesiology taping that’s well-supported in the literature is short-term pain reduction (up to 5-7 days) in chronic (> 4 weeks) musculoskeletal pain (Lim & Tay, 2016). However, the mechanism of pain relief is still unclear. It’s probably mediated by the “Gate Control Theory” (which in itself is still a theory!). It’s likely related to activation of afferent receptors in the skin; not from ‘reducing mechanical pressure on free nerve endings” through the skin convolutions.

In fact, it’s been shown that convolutions don’t really matter when it comes to pain reduction. Parreira and colleagues (2014) showed that low back pain patients had similar outcomes whether or not the tape was applied with convolutions. (Strike 3).

Simply placing your hand over an area that hurts somehow makes it feel better. Kinesiology tape’s pain relief is likely the same mechanism, but the tape is constantly there instead of your hand.

Bottom line: When we really look at the science, convolutions are not the mechanism. In this case, neurology trumps mechanical (same we see with “myofascial rolling,” by the way).

So that leads to more questions: Do we need to ‘elongate’ tissues before taping them to create these convolutions? Are the patterns and positions that are taught really the right ones? The more we learn about the tape, the better we can utilize it—and avoid using it in ways that don’t help our patients.

It’s time for everyone (including the manufacturers, instructors and even researchers) who continue to perpetuate pseudoscience and misinformation to update their articles and presentations, and stop making false claims that aren’t backed up with science.

Oh, and please stop using the word “science” or “research” to explain or market techniques or products as a cover-up.

Look, I’m a fan of kinesiology taping like many others, but I’m a skeptic by nature. I’ve seen it help reduce pain in lots of people. There is science out there, but everyone has a responsibility to accurately report it. And clinicians have a responsibility to identify pseudoscience and make evidence-informed decisions in patient care rather than rely on ‘gurus’ and slick marketing.

{ 0 comments }

Journal Club Lesson: Never rely on the abstract

by Dr. Phil on April 11, 2019

Dear Editor*:

I was happy to see a meta-analysis by Silvia Lopes et al. (DOI: 10.1177/2050312119831116) comparing elastic resistance with ‘conventional’ resistance on muscle strength. In general, I believe the analysis was adequate; however, I noted several serious errors in the manuscript that must be addressed.

It appears that the legends of Figures 2 and 3 were switched. The forest plot of Figure 2 output contains data for lower limb outcomes, while the legend is labeled “upper limbs.” More importantly, the authors have reversed their results in the results section and abstract, providing upper limb SMD for lower limb SMD, and vice-versa. Based on the forest plots, it appears the correct results should be:

Upper Limb SMD = 0.09 (-0.18, 0.35) p = 0.5

Lower Limb SMD = -0.11 (-0.40, 0.19) p = 0.48. 

Unfortunately, the authors have also mistakenly reported SMD as 0.011 in the abstract, rather than -0.11.

The authors used a fixed effect model for meta-analysis because of homogeneity of the included studies “through the I2value”; however, no I2value was reported. Furthermore, the heterogeneity of the study samples (healthy and diseased cohorts included), length of studies, and muscle groups examined would likely warrant the use of a random-effects model to strengthen the validity of the analysis. In fact, the authors go on to note, “Regarding health, the sample varied from physically active individuals and athletes to individuals with coronary heart disease and moderate COPD.”

In the Results section, as well as the abstract, the authors stated that eight studies were included. When examining the characteristics of the studies, the authors only reference studies from their bibliography (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8), apparently having dropped reference #5 (Webber et al. 2010) which was not included any analysis of the results through the forest plots in Figures 2 or 3. 


The PRISMA chart in Figure 1 reveals more inconsistencies compared to the text. In addition to showing 7 studies (rather than the stated “eight” in the text) included in the final analysis, Figure 1 indicates that 29 were screened and 22 excluded; however, the text indicates the authors screened 23 and excluded 15.

Under Methodological Quality Of Included Studies, the authors identified the number of studies with certain characteristics; however, the superscripts are not consistent with the text. For example, the authors state that ‘four’ studies scored “7”, but they superscripted only 2 references.

In the Discussionsection, the authors note that references 16-18 compared elastic resistance to a control group; however, only 1 of these review studies focused on elastic resistance (reference 16); the other 2 reviewed all types of resistance training, including elastic resistance.

As a journal editor, I was very disappointed to see these errors published in this pay-for-publish open access journal. These obvious errors should have been noted in peer review, which leads me to question if adequate peer review even occurred.

I assume the authors paid the $1125 fee to have their article published. In today’s world of predatory journals, these types of errors indicate the possibility of poor editorial and peer review process, leading to numerous critical errors that affect the article’s validity. It’s unfair for readers to be presented with such an erroneous publication. Busy clinicians reading these articles are often limited in time, and they must often trust that the publication is free of errors to ensure validity.

Meta-analytical designs are generally rated as the “highest” level of evidence: “level 1” evidence. However, the level of evidence should always be limited by the quality of the paper. Unfortunately, the errors in this paper go beyond quality assessment. 

A quality assessment tool may not have even identified these errors. These errors are generally detected only upon focused review of the paper, which should have been done during the editorial and peer review process. Your readers should not have to bring these errors to your attention. This paper is an example of the importance of reading the full publication rather than relying on the abstract alone (which in this case was also wrong). 

I applaud the authors for completing this research, and I doubt these errors change the outcome of the analysis, as we have noted similar findings of no difference in EMG activity between elastic and isotonic resistance1. However, the authors and journal editor have a responsibility to correct these errors immediately (as well as the Pubmed abstract) and ensure their conclusions remain valid. Furthermore, I suggest the journal editor should review their editorial process to ensure these mistakes do not occur again.

Phil Page, PhD, PT, ATC, LAT, CSCS, FACSM

1. Aboodarda SJ, Page PA, Behm DG. Muscle activation comparisons between elastic and isoinertial resistance: a meta-analysisClinical Biomechanics. 2016. 39:52-61.

*This is a letter to the editor of SAGE Open Medicine, an open-access, pay-for-publish journal. Ironically, my letter has to go through peer review before considering for publication. And as of now, there is no fee for publishing letters to the editor.

UPDATE September 4, 2019: After inquiring about the status of my ‘peer review’, the journal informed me that they have not been able to find a suitable reviewer for my letter to the editor. Not sure why the editor just can’t review it. Isn’t that their job? And I guess the longer this article stays out there with all the errors, the more people will believe the results?

{ 0 comments }

How to use research to guide your clinical decision making

January 19, 2019

Today’s approach to “evidence-based practice” (EBP) should be a process rather than an end-point. In this article published in the Journal of Performance Health, I recommend a 6-step process for a pragmatic approach to EBP….beginning with asking the question and ending with analyzing the results: AAAAAA. The AAAAA’s of Pragmatic EBP Want some help to […]

Read the full article →

Safer Pain Relief Summits: Delivering the Latest Techniques for Pain Relief and Movement

February 26, 2018

Identifying, rehabilitating and preventing musculoskeletal dysfunctions is not only a primary component of pain management, but is fundamental to facilitate and reinforce proper movement patterns. As you and your fellow hands-on healthcare professionals seek to become the experts in pain management, obtaining continuing education credits (CEUs) that encompass the observation of whole movements, regional independence, […]

The post Safer Pain Relief Summits: Delivering the Latest Techniques for Pain Relief and Movement appeared first on Performance Health Academy.

Read the full article →

Pelvic Asymmetry 101: How to Mediate the Misaligned

February 19, 2018

For us desk jockeys sitting for eight hours a day at work, proper pelvic alignment and overall workplace ergonomics are constantly preached so that we may be kind to our bodies and maintain the integrity of our musculoskeletal system. For those who are permanently wheelchair-bound, on the other hand, proper pelvic alignment is even more […]

The post Pelvic Asymmetry 101: How to Mediate the Misaligned appeared first on Performance Health Academy.

Read the full article →

5 Important Pieces of Advice for the New Physical Therapists

February 15, 2018

Congratulations, you made it through the hard part— school, licensing, job; check, check, and check. You’re in this field because you understand the importance of preparation and you have a passion for helping others, but now you’re ready to excel in clinical practice. It’s important to seek wise counsel when mapping out a strategy to […]

The post 5 Important Pieces of Advice for the New Physical Therapists appeared first on Performance Health Academy.

Read the full article →

Take Advantage of Two Free Wheelchair Seating and Positioning Webinars

February 5, 2018

Successfully managing seating and positioning issues can improve patient outcomes and function with these 45 minute educational webinars. Join Dr. Kirsten Davin, a recognized authority in Seating and Positioning for free educational webinars and learn from an expert! Pelvic Asymmetry Webinar February 27, 7pm CT – The pelvis is the key point of control, and adjustments […]

The post Take Advantage of Two Free Wheelchair Seating and Positioning Webinars appeared first on Performance Health Academy.

Read the full article →

108 More Research Studies That You Need to Read… Now

December 6, 2017

If you missed the first 55 research studies and second 93 research studies published this year, catch up! Just because we’re getting into the swing of the holiday season doesn’t mean the research is stopping anytime soon. This quarter, there were 86 new original research articles added to the Academy database and 22 abstracts from the annual […]

The post 108 More Research Studies That You Need to Read… Now appeared first on Performance Health Academy.

Read the full article →

Evidence-Based Musculoskeletal Pain Relief is a Spray Away

November 22, 2017

As you’re reading this sentence, millions of people are struggling with some form of musculoskeletal pain. This notion isn’t new to you, though; you treat these patients day in and day out in your clinic. Thankfully, more clinicians are wising up to the detriments of opioid prescriptions to treat musculoskeletal pain, and these pain sufferers […]

The post Evidence-Based Musculoskeletal Pain Relief is a Spray Away appeared first on Performance Health Academy.

Read the full article →

Dynamic vs. Isometric Resistance Training for Knee Osteoarthritis

November 15, 2017

Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition that can significantly hinder a person’s ability to get around and negatively impacts their overall quality of life. Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder in the US and the second most common disability in older adults. When osteoarthritis impacts the knee, it’s especially limiting and can eventually prevent the affected […]

The post Dynamic vs. Isometric Resistance Training for Knee Osteoarthritis appeared first on Performance Health Academy.

Read the full article →