Athletic tape has come a long way from the sticky cloth bindings known for cutting off circulation when applied and ripping skin when removed. The traditional white tape is still used on certain injuries, but more and more athletes, patients recovering from surgery and weekend warriors suffering a sprain or shin splint are moving to Kinesio Tape.
Kinesio Tape's first foray into the limelight came as a black spider web-like pattern on the shoulder of American beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh in the 2008 Olympics. Since then, the intricate taping method has been used on Lance Armstrong, David Beckham and a number of other athletes. Now that the tape has gotten some time on the field, it's become increasingly popular in rehabilitation and training facilities.
Why the sudden movement from traditional tape to Kinesio? Some might argue the move to the more flexible, skin-like Kinesio Tape isn't sudden at all. Many people just didn't know it was available until the world watched Walsh sporting it as she won a gold medal. Amelia Embley, outpatient rehabilitation supervisor for the Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Program at East Jefferson General Hospital (EJGH), says her group has used Kinesio tape since 2007. "We have three certified Kinesio Tape practitioners," she says. "All of our staff uses it."
In addition to the composition of the tape itself — it's elastic and 100 percent cotton — the key to making the most of it is the application process. "You can use it to support a muscle, but you can also tape to restrict motion, to facilitate motion, or to increase lymphatic drainage and decrease inflammation," depending on how the tape is placed, Embley says.
Research also suggests Kinesio has medicinal properties beyond that of ordinary athletic tape. In 2008, The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy published a double-blind clinical study of college students who had been diagnosed with a shoulder injury. Half of the students were treated with Kinesio Tape, while the other half were given a "sham" tape. The report states: "The therapeutic [Kinesio Tape] group showed immediate improvement in pain-free shoulder abduction."
David Gruber, a physical therapy assistant with EJGH's Outpatient Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Program, says he has used it on a multitude of conditions and that it became an unexpected resource for him when he discovered it minimizes surgery scars. "Because scar tissue can sometimes begin to grow in an unproductive elevation, taping a scar with Kinesio Tape helps to flatten the scar appropriately," he says.
Applying pressure on a scar that is healing is a technique Gruber has always used in physical therapy. "I thought, why not have something that puts pressure on the skin 24 hours a day," he says. "I've seen several total knee replacement scars that have an improved appearance because of the tape."
Depending on a user's activities, Kinesio Tape usually can be worn for two or three days without changing it. Although it is water resistant, Embley suggests swimmers and people prone to heavy sweating have the tape changed more often. But because it facilitates the healing process, most patients don't need to wear Kinesio Tape for more than a few days anyway.
"We've seen some really incredible results," Embley says. "We're getting patients where they need to be faster and with fewer visits."