I’ve had a minor niggling calf pain for a week or so. Should I kinesio tape that sucker? Kinesio tape (also called KT tape, though technically that’s a brand name): it was a hot ticket at the olympics a few years ago (London, maybe?). I’ve used it before, for minor tweaks and sore spots. I see others at the gym doing it. Patients of mine ask about it. Professionals (hi PTs!) do it. Theoretically, kinesio taping is supposted to increase blood and lymph flow by lifting the skin— this isn’t the same as traditional athletic taping, which is meant to create stability. Because I’m a science person, I’m immediately skeptical of a claim without evidence, even if it seems generally sane.
So, let’s ask: Kinesio tape. Is it safe? Does it do anything? Should I cover myself in multi-colored tape before my next workout?
- It’s pretty safe. Kinesio taping is non-invasive. It stands to reason that a few people might have an allergy or other bad reaction on the skin. And as with anything that externally supports a musculoskeletal structure, long-term use could potentially alter mechanics and permit continued imbalances, though this is theoretical. And of course, it can hurt you in the wallet.
- Evidence on its effectiveness in injury management and prevention is sparse:
- Meta-analyses and systematic reviews are high-quality sources of evidence because they look across multiple studies for an overall trend of evidence. A meta-analysis of articles (n=10) on kinesio taping to treat and prevent sports injuries found no clinically significant impact on pain. There was inconsistent evidence on range of motion, indicating a possible small effect. The strongest evidence was for an improvement in proprioception, or position sense. There appeared to be some effect on strength and muscle activity, but whether there was any clinical benefit to these findings is unclear. Overall, the authors conclude that there just isn’t a lot of high-quality evidence, like RCTs, to back up the case reports and and anecdotes . Another systematic review of studies (n=12) on kinesio taping for musculoskeletal conditions (broadly defined, including various acute and chronic pain conditions) found that there was little to no effect on pain, disability, quality of life, return to work, or global impression of recovery. Yet another systematic review of 17 studies of kinesio taping for chronic musculoskeletal pain suggested benefit over no intervention for pain, but it wasn’t superior to other interventions, and there was no benefit for disabiilty.
- Reviews on kinesio taping for specific conditions don’t offer much else. Generally low-quality evidence suggests no benefit in low back pain . A systematic review of evidence on kinesio taking of the lateral ankle was guardedly positive, suggesting that both injured and healthy ankles may have a modest benefit related to postural control or proprioception.
- Evidence on its effectiveness for performance enhancement in healthy people is even worse. Kinesio taping of the legs appears to have no effect or even a negative effect on power, endurance or fatigue.
So overall, take-home point? Kinesio taping could have a modest benefit in pain or range of motion in the short term, but there evidence isn’t really there. If it helps for pain or injury, it might be because it increases position sense of the taped area. It probably does nothing to help performance in healthy people.
So should you use it? If you are interested in it and you have a minor musculoskeletal issue, or if a PT recommends or applies it, give it a shot. It could have a small short-term benefit on your pain, proprioception, or range of motion. It might not help, but it probably won’t hurt you— so the worst that could happen is you look a little silly and you’re out ten bucks.