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.

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