Today, there are more than 50 brands of kinesiology tape on the market, but the original product, Kinesio tape or Kinesio Tex Tape, was developed in the late 1970s by Dr. Kenzo Kase, a Japanese chiropractor who wanted a tape that provided support but didn’t limit movement the way traditional athletic tapes do.
If you’ve watched a volleyball game or competitive bicycle race, you’ve probably seen it: strips of colorful tape splayed in patterns across shoulders, knees, backs, and abs. That’s kinesiology tape: a therapeutic tape that’s applied strategically to the body to provide support, lessen pain, reduce swelling, and improve performance.
Enthusiasts report success achieving these aims, but so far, there needs to be more research to say with certainty what taping can and cannot do.
Here’s what we know about how physical and sports therapists use it, its benefits, tips and what to know.
How does kinesiology tape work?
Kinesiology tape is really stretchy.
Kase created Kinesio tape with a proprietary blend of cotton and nylon. It’s designed to mimic the skin’s elasticity so you can use your full range of motion. The tape’s medical-grade adhesive is also water-resistant and strong enough to stay on for three to five days, even while you work out or take showers.
When the tape is applied to your body, it recoils slightly, gently lifting your skin. It is believed that this helps to create a microscopic space between your skin and the tissues underneath it.
May change signals on pain pathways
Some physical therapists think the tape changes the information your sensory nervous system is sending about pain and compression in your body.
Dr. Megann Schooley, board-certified clinical specialist in sports physical therapy and certified strength and conditioning specialist, explains it this way:
“All of your tissues — skin, connective tissue, fascia, muscles — contain sensory receptors that feel pain, temperature, and touch. Those receptors all contribute to proprioception—your brain’s sense of where your body is and what it’s doing. Kinesiology taping creates a lift that unloads the underlying tissues. Decompressing those tissues can change the signals going to the brain. When the brain receives a different signal, it’s going to respond differently,” Schooley says.
Trigger points are a good example. Physical therapists have used kinesiology tape to lift the skin over these tense, knotted muscles. When the area is decompressed, pain receptors send a new signal to the brain, and tension in the trigger point decreases.
A 2015 study showed that trigger point pain was reduced and flexibility increased for people when kinesiology tape and manual pressure were used together.
May improve circulation of blood and fluidsIf you’ve been injured, kinesiology tape might help improve circulation and reduce swelling in the area where you’re hurt.
A 2017 study showed that kinesiology taping can improve blood flow in the skin. It may also improve circulation of lymphatic fluids. Lymphatic fluid is mostly water, but it also contains proteins, bacteria, and other chemicals. The lymphatic system is the way your body regulates swelling and fluid buildup.
The theory is that when kinesiology tape is applied, it creates extra subcutaneous space, which changes the pressure gradient in the area underneath your skin. That change in pressure enhances the flow of lymphatic fluid.
Studies have had mixed results. In two recent studies, kinesiology tape reduced fluid buildup in women who underwent breast cancer treatment and people who had total knee replacements.
Changing the flow of lymphatic fluid could help bruises heal faster. Although there are few studies to confirm this effect, anecdotally some people report that when they’ve removed tape from bruised body parts, the areas under the tape were a different color than the un-taped areas.
What is kinesiology tape used for?
1. Treating injuries.
Physical therapists sometimes use kinesiology taping as one part of an overall treatment plan for people who’ve been injured. The American Physical Therapy Association reports that kinesiology taping is most effective when it’s used in conjunction with other treatments like manual therapy.
“We use kinesiology taping to mitigate pain and swelling,” Schooley says, “but it’s always used as an adjunct to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
2. Supporting weak zones.
Kinesiology tape is also used to add extra support to muscles or joints that need it. If you have patellofemoral stress syndrome, IT band friction syndrome, or Achilles tendonitis, kinesiology taping might help you.
Unlike white medical or athletic tape, kinesiology tape lets you move normally. In fact, some studies show that it can enhance movement and endurance. Studies on athletes have shown that when kinesiology tape is used on fatigued muscles, performance improves.
3. Re-educating muscles.
Kinesiology tape can help re-train muscles that have lost function or that have gotten used to an unhealthy way of working.
For example, kinesiology taping can be used to correct posture in your head and neck. And a 2017 study supports using it to help stroke patients improve the way they walk.
Physical therapists think this may be because having the strange sensation of tape on your skin can make you more aware of how you’re standing or moving.
4. Enhancing performance
Some athletes use kinesiology taping to help them achieve peak performance and protect against injury when they’re competing in special events.
“A lot of runners use this tape every time they run a marathon,” Schooley says. “We sometimes place the tape along the glute as a way of ‘waking up’ the muscle and reminding it to keep working.”
5. Managing scars
Although you should never use kinesiology tape on an open wound, there is some scientific evidence to suggest that kinesiology tape can improve the long-term appearance of scars after surgery or injury. This is definitely a treatment you should discuss with a doctor first.
Does it really work?
The answer for some people is: yes. But we need more research — what exists currently is inconsistent. Some studies indicate no difference in outcomes between kinesiology tape and placebos or “sham taping.”
Some studies show minimal or moderate gains.
Many studies indicate that kinesiology taping is most effective when used together with conventional treatment methods.
When not to tape
There are some circumstances in which kinesiology tape should not be used. They include the following.
How to apply kinesiology tape
You should always consult with a physical therapist who is trained in the proper application of kinesiology tape before you try to put it on yourself.
A physical therapist will show you how to apply the tape in the pattern that will help your specific problem. Tape can be applied in an X, Y, I, or fan pattern, depending on your goals. You may also need both stabilization and decompression strips.
Your physical therapist can watch you practice applying and removing the tape before you try it at home.
“Taping is not a permanent solution,” Schooley says. “You want to build your strength and skill, because correcting the root problem is key.”
To apply the tape, remember these steps:
How to safely remove kinesio tape
If you’re wearing the tape longer than a few days, it may begin loosening on its own. Here are some tips for getting the tape off without hurting your skin.
Will the tape harm my skin?
The adhesive on major brands is latex-free and hypoallergenic, so it shouldn’t cause an allergic reaction if it’s applied properly and if you don’t have sensitivities. It’s probably a good idea to apply a test strip first, just to be on the safe side.
The long and short of it
Although the effectiveness of kinesiology taping is not well researched, it may provide support, increase circulation, reduce pain, and improve the way your joints and muscles work.
Before using it, you should talk to a physical therapist, because it’s most useful when combined with other treatment methods.
Medically reviewed by Gregory Minnis, DPT, specialty in physical therapy, on March 20, 2019 — Written by Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA
Source: What is Kinesiology Tape?
Few people can have failed to notice the rise and rise of this often brightly colored tape in recent years. Whether adorning Gareth Bales legs, Novak Djokovic’s back or covering half of TeamGB at London 2012, kinesiology tape (henceforth I’ll go with just tape) has been rapidly gaining popularity with athletes, patients and therapists alike.
While some people remain skeptical, and doubtful that is nothing more than a passing fad, convinced that all its reported positive effects are down to a heady cocktail of placebo effect and vanity.
Others, myself included, have seen and felt its unique effects to reduce pain and enhance performance. Every day in the clinic I see patients delighted and amazed when I tape them. Every time I teach a taping course I see skeptics become converts by wearing and feeling the tape work on them.
For many people, at the point they realize their pain/problem feels better when wearing tape, they stop asking questions. I am not that sort of people, this is for all those skeptical scientific, pragmatic, rational people..like me. I’m not going to make the usual outlandish claims about what tape can do, and more importantly that we fully understand it.
WHAT IS KINESIOLOGY TAPE?
If I’m really honest there is much we don’t know about what tape can and can’t help, how it does what it does, what system within your body it is affecting. You know; the details. Let’s start with what we do actually know.
WHAT IT'S NOT
WHAT WILL IT DO FOR ME?
Kinesiology tape is commonly used clinically to try and achieve the following:
WHAT IS THE PROOF?
The popularity of KT has grown and spread worldwide based on its clinical effectiveness to reduce pain and enhance performance rather hard tangible evidence about how the effects are achieved.
Although still in its infancy, there are very encouraging signs from research studies and a body of independent academic research is growing to support the positive effects of tape.
There are conflicting messages coming from the research at present. Some studies show no effect of tape on the parameters they tested. Whilst others show that tape does change various things such as pain, strength, endurance etc. So it’s quite possible to cherry pick to form an argument either way.
All research is not equal, and many of the studies examining tape effects are at best on the small side and a worst poorly designed, badly written up and generally quite pants.
That said Research studies have shown kinesiology tape to:
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Cards on the table: Nobody is 100% sure how it works. An amazingly little amount of research has gone into the fundamental mechanics of how tape works.
This is my best guess until more research comes along.Fundamentally tape causes a form of decompression between the skin and the tissue underneath. When an elastic membrane (tape) is applied to another elastic material (skin) the result is often a series of wrinkles in both the tape and the skin.
These wrinkles don’t always appear and aren't necessary for tape to work. But they do make a good visual example of the mechanism by which the elastic qualities if kinesiology tape induces a decompressive effect between skin and the tissue under it.
This decompression of the skin and underlying tissue leads to 3 main effects:
WHO CAN USE IT?
I’M SOLD; WHAT’S NEXT?
Ever feel hangry when you miss a meal? Imagine waiting 16 or 18 hours before eating again. Or an entire day without breakfast, lunch, or dinner. That’s what proponents of intermittent fasting do on a regular basis.
At its simplest, intermittent fasting (IF) means cycling through periods of voluntary abstinence of food (or significant calorie reduction), interspersed with intervals of normal food intake.
Whenever we eat, the body releases insulin to help cells convert sugars (in particular glucose) from food into energy. If the glucose isn’t used immediately, insulin helps makes sure the excess is stored in fat cells. But when we go without food for extended periods, as people do in IF, insulin is not released. The body then turns to breaking down fat cells for energy, leading to weight loss.
That’s why we have fat stores, and if we’re not using them, all kinds of bad things happen.”
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, a Harvard Medical School professor and internal medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, explains to Inverse what happens when people never get hungry enough to use up those fat stores. “A, we get fatter, and B, it’s all the things that go along with that,” she says.
“Your blood sugars are constantly high. Your insulin levels are constantly high. You get type 2 diabetes, which is a huge epidemic. Those high blood sugars cause damage to the insides of our arteries. The kidneys are getting clogged up. People go into dialysis. It’s a disaster, basically.”
A century of IF research in humans and animals illustrates her claims. Studies show IF can lead to weight loss, stabilized blood sugar, reduced inflammation, improvements in memory and stress resistance, slowed aging, and longer lifespan — all promising health benefits in return for considerable lifestyle changes.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?Unlike some complicated nutritional plans, IF requires minimal effort: You simply don’t eat, or eat very limited quantities, for hours at a time. No meal prep, counting calories, or restaurant guesswork.
But there are several ways to go about the diet. Some IF proponents maintain time-restricted eating, squeezing all their meals into an eight to 10-hour period, followed by a 14- to 16-hour overnight fast. Others rave about the 5:2 diet, which involves eating normally for five days of the week followed by two days of eating 25% of their daily caloric intake (that’s around 500 to 600 calories for most people). Others simply restrict food intake completely on certain days of the week, relying on water, black coffee, and tea to stave off hunger cues.
There are no guidelines or nutritional suggestions for “on days” when eating is unrestricted. But physicians and dieticians suggest eating a nutrient-dense diet full of plants and protein to tide you over through fasting periods.
What Happens During Intermittent Fasting?To understand IF, you have to first understand what happens when you eat.
“Insulin is a hormone that’s released when we eat, but it isn’t meant to be released all the time,” Tello says. “Intermittent fasting is simply letting your insulin level go down to basically normal so that you unlock your fat stores. So nobody’s going to lose any weight unless they get that insulin level down. Which is why eating very small meals throughout the day doesn’t really help with weight loss.”
Waiting a bit longer than usual between meals is totally normal, she says, despite what societal cues tell us.
“Historically, we didn’t have access to things like snacks even up until a hundred years ago,” Tello says. “People did not have KIND bars. People, nowadays, keep food in their glove compartments, for God’s sake. It’s like people can’t stand to be even a little bit hungry for a second. That’s not normal, that’s not healthy.”
Mark Mattson, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and former chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, compares how fasting affects the body to the way exercise does.
“During exercise, there’s a stress on the cells. They don’t grow and get stronger and bigger during the exercise but during the resting period. So we think that with intermittent fasting — during the fasting period, the cells go in kind of a stress-resistance mode. And then when you eat, they’ve prepared themselves to quickly take up nutrients, proteins, and grow.”
How to Get StartedWhen first trying IF, the transition can be challenging, Mattson admits.
Many fasters report uncomfortable, even painful hunger pangs as they abstain from food. Mattson suggests people take it slow, trying different kinds of IF to see what works with their goals and routine. He advises first narrowing the “feeding window” from an initial unrestricted period down to 12 hours, then 10 hours, then eight hours, before finding a feeding window that is sustainable.
During the first week or two of IF, fasters may notice their stomachs grumbling or feel a sense of hollowness. Some people are exhausted, lightheaded, or shaky from diminished blood sugar on fasting days. Others experience poor concentration, irritability, mood swings, and even dizziness. In particular, people who work in long shifts or with heavy machinery should take more care when fasting to stay hydrated, rested, and alert.
After about a month, people typically feel better and less hungry, says Mattson.
Tello agrees: “The longer you can go between meals, the less hungry you are. I think a lot of people’s hunger levels actually decrease as opposed to the very low calorie diet where you’re constantly feeding yourself small, tiny bits of food. That’s like a tease all day long.”
Mattson encourages fasters to be patient and wait for those side effects to pass.
“A lot of people will say, ‘Well, I tried it. I’m too hungry, I’m irritable, and cannot concentrate,’ but they have to stick with it,” he says. “It is kind of like exercise. If you’ve been out of shape, when you start, it takes a while for your body and brain to adjust. But after you get used to it, you actually feel better. And if you stop doing it, you feel worse.”
To make fasting manageable, Tello suggests an overnight fast, which can more easily fit into people’s routines. Research shows that restricting eating to daytime hours, an approach that aligns eating patterns with circadian rhythms, has been shown to have metabolic and weight loss benefits.
“Nighttime eating is horrible,” Tello explains. “Nighttime snacking is like the worst. Eating at night and then going to bed, that all goes right to fat. That is the surest way to gain weight, and it’s so bad for your blood sugars.”
Can You Lose Weight With Intermittent Fasting?A major reason many people start and stick to IF is to lose weight. A Reddit group centered on the practice, with over 380,000 members, brims with dramatic before and after photos of fasters, some who have dropped over 150 pounds using the weight loss approach. Most rave about their results: slimmer bodies, more energy, and happier outlooks.
A 2015 systematic review of 40 studies, published in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, showed that IF was effective for weight loss, with a typical loss of seven to 11 pounds over 10 weeks.
But IF isn’t necessarily more effective for weight loss than other energy restriction regimens, like simply counting calories or cutting out carbs. A year-long study of obese males, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2017, showed that alternate-day fasting did not produce superior adherence, weight loss, weight maintenance, or cardioprotection over daily calorie restriction.
How to Eat Healthy While Intermittent FastingIf losing weight in a healthy way is the goal, Tello suggests maintaining a plant-based diet alongside fasting and not using IF as an excuse to overeat or consume unhealthy foods during non-fasting windows. In a plant-based diet, plants make up the lion’s share of food consumption. Think vegetarian, vegan, or Mediterranean diets.
People do not have to be completely vegan but they do have to be, for the most part, eating plants.”
“We have so much evidence, overwhelming mountains of evidence on millions and millions and millions of people’s data that a plant-based diet is the healthiest diet,” Tello says. “And people do not have to be completely vegan, but they do have to be, for the most part, eating plants.”
Tello suggests aiming to make plants 80% of your diet. You can still have steak, cake, and whole grains on occasion, but the bulk of your diet should be coming from the ground or growing in a tree or bush.
“You will be a healthier person. It’s anti-inflammatory, it’s fiber full. It’s going to be decreasing your cholesterol levels. Your digestion is going to improve,” Tello says.
Decades of research, show that a plant-based diet is effective for controlling or losing weight, improved physical and emotional health, and a multitude of health benefits: lower mortality, better cardiovascular health, prevention of type 2 diabetes, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Will Intermittent Fasting Make You Live Longer?In 2012, the BBC broadcast journalist Michael Mosley brought IF into the diet landscape with the documentary Eat Fast, Live Longer, which drew on research by Michelle Harvie, Ph.D., at the University of Manchester. It was followed shortly by journalist Kate Harrison’s book The 5:2 Diet in 2013 and Dr. Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code in 2016.
Research on IF’s effects on aging date back a century. “Nutrition and aging are very tightly linked,” John Newman, MD, Ph.D., a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco and researcher with the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, tells Inverse.
“One of the great early experiments almost a hundred years ago showed that if you feed rats less food, they live longer up until the point when you start to starve them. Fasting, dietary restriction, and the ketogenic diet turn on repair pathways and help animals to live longer.”
A century of laboratory research on animals and humans, collated by Harvie and Anthony Howell, Ph.D., both at the University of Manchester, links calorie restriction with the prevention of age-related disease, which includes tumors, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia. The research also suggests that it increases lifespan.
What Are the Risks of Intermittent Fasting?Some dieticians warn that ignoring hunger cues can have unforeseen consequences. Evelyn Tribole, registered dietitian and author of The Intuitive Eating Workbook, encourages her clients to listen to their hunger and satiety cues when choosing to eat rather than adhering to strict dietary rules. Tribole thinks ignoring these primal signals is a dangerous practice.
“I have a problem when someone is actually feeling biological hunger and you’re going to disregard that,” Tribole says. “I think that’s problematic, especially with anyone who has a dieting history or an eating disorder; they’re more likely to get engaged in binge eating and emotional eating.”
Anyone with a history of disordered eating patterns should consult a health professional to confirm that IF is right for them.
One systematic review published in the journal Stress in 2016, found that IF may initially increase stress levels of fasters. The increase may subside after a few weeks of fasting. Other research says IF could cause greater metabolic fluctuations and increased appetite on non-fasting days relative to intermittent energy restriction, a diet that allows some food.
The Future of FastingMattson, Tello, and Newman note that the research on IF has its limitations. Notably, a bulk of the studies have been done on rats and animal models, or obese or overweight human subjects.
IF’s impact on other populations — like growing adolescents, pregnant women, diabetic people, those with existing medical conditions, people using medication that requires food intake, or people over 65 years of age — remains to be determined.
More randomized controlled studies on a wider range of adult populations would help confirm some of the potential health benefits. But for now, it appears IF is here to stay.
“Intermittent fasting is well beyond a fad,” says Mattson, who is critical of its trendiness because he worries it can lead people to discredit the value of reputable evidence.
“Luckily, there’s plenty of research in human beings and intermittent fasting,” Tello says. “There are all these different studies calling it different words, but they are looking at the same thing, which is extended fasting.”
“At this point,” she concludes, “I think it’s really fair to say that any kind of modified fasting regimen promotes weight loss and improves metabolic health. I think we’re really safe to say that.”