Most athletes, coaches, and trainers are aware of the RICE method for injury recovery, along with treating the regular sprains and strains. But new technology in injury recovery is constantly being developed. Kinesiology tape is one such method. Rather than focusing on the injury directly, kinesiology tape takes work and tension away from the injury and redirects it to stronger surrounding tissue.
By using this special type of long-adhesion flexible tape, you can redistribute tension in muscles and ligaments. What’s incredible is how many different uses for kinesiology tape there are. By layering and directing the tape over various target areas, you can relieve pain, enhance your form, or improve healing.
What is Kinesiology Tape?
Kinesiology tape is a special kind of tape made with a blend of cotton and elastic to simulate real skin. This is what makes kinesiology tape flexible enough to provide real support without being painful or peeling of the skin like other types of tape. Kinesiology tape was designed to provide a much greater range of motion without pulling the skin, and can be left on for far longer than traditional athletic tape. It is intended to mimic human skin, with about the same thickness and elasticity. The tape can be stretch between 30% and 40% length-wise. It also dries quickly and reliably due to the cotton threads.
Kinesiology tape was invented by a Japanese-American chiropractor Kenzo Kase. The tape was designed to enhance the healing rate and physical recovery of Mr. Kase’s patients. It was developed during the 1970s but began a major climb in popularity with athletes after it made a public appearance in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
Let’s take a closer look at seven completely different ways that kinesiology tape can be used to assist healing and athletic performance.
1) Improves Lymph Flow Between Skin and Muscle
On the surface, kinesiology tape sticks to the skin and when it pulls, it pulls on the skin. This slight adhesive tension pulls enough at the skin, making room for the lymph layer between the muscle and the skin. Fluid passing through and around your muscles is uniquely useful when it comes to muscle growth and recovery from a soft-tissue injury. Kinesiology tape changes the tension of skin on muscle and improves the flow of lymph just under the skin.
The lymphatic system is how the body regulates swelling and fluid buildup. Allowing lymph free movement can reduce inflammation and improve the health of all surrounding tissue. This is especially important if you’ve experienced a recent injury or inflammation.
2) Mechanically Improve Joint Stability and Alignment
When it comes to joint support, kinesiology tape steps up where braces leave off. There is already a precedent to tape up a trick elbow or knee when playing sports, but usually that tape comes off after the practice or game it was intended for. Kinesiology tape is different, and is intended to stay on for up to three days.
When taped correctly, kinesiology tape can provide long-term support and stability for joints. In many cases, kinesiology tape is used to create a sling or motion-limiting tension to prevent a further strain. Kinesiology tape can also provide reinforcement to help keep your joints moving in-alignment instead of sliding to one side. Kinesiology tape is excellent for mechanical support through joint stability and alignment.
3) Decrease Pressure Over Targeted Tissue
Pressure is among athletes’ greatest enemies. Pressure pushes your muscles and joints together, causing compression and discomfort. It comes from a combination of inflammation and tension, so that there’s nowhere for the swelling fluids to go. Pressure can occur on the lymph layer beneath the skin, inside fluid-filled muscles, and in the supportive fascia tissue between muscles and organs.
When kinesiology tape pulls on the skin in specific distributed ways, it provides subcutaneous space and decreases that pressure building up in your soft tissue. For athletes who know what it’s like to feel tense and achy, kinesiology tape offers a significant change in what you feel and how your muscles respond to recovery time. Relieving that pressure can give your muscles room to grow and your tendons room to stretch as fluids flow more freely.
4) Redirect Stress from a Ligament or Tendon
You may already have experience with a sports brace that redirects weight or support to protect a joint. A supportive knee brace, for example, distributes weight to the surrounding leg above and below the knee to reduce damage to a recovering knee. Kinesiology tape can do something like that as well. By creating strips of tension and support that cross multiple muscles and tendons, stress can be redirected from a damaged tendon or ligament.
If you have recently experienced a strain or sprain, or have a trick tendon that is always too tight, kinesiology tape can help. The tape can pull stress away from a certain area and redistribute that stress or tension to other nearby soft tissue. This can allow a tendon or ligament to relax and recover or to handle more stress than usual in a tough athletic performance.
5) Provide Pain Relief
Kinesiology tape has also been found to provide long-term pain relief for pain related to muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Pain often comes from a muscle or ligament that is knotted too tight and tends to return to a knotted state. You may have a back muscle that sprains regularly, painfully tight shoulders, or a muscle in your calf that always hurts. Kinesiology tape can help with all of these types of pain.
This can actually work in a number of ways. Kinesiology tape can reduce pain by reducing pressure in the soft tissue, thereby reducing the pain of inflammation. Or it can reduce pain by helping you stay within a healthy range of motion. Or it can redirect stress to a painful muscle by distributing pressure and support through other nearby muscles and ligaments.
Some have also found that kinesiology tape can be used to change how your body perceives localized pain. By changing the way your skin and fluids interact with the area, you can reduce the pain signals being sent to your brain from the injured area.
6) Adjust Fascia Tissue
Fascia is an interesting aspect of the human body that most people don’t know about. Your fascia are supportive non-muscular tissue that help everything stay in place and separate, though tightly packed. The fascia hold organs in position and help fight the effects of gravity on your internal structure. Like tendons and ligaments, fascia weave through everything, including your muscles.
By adjusting your fascia tissue through kinesiology tape methods, you are also adjusting the configuration of your muscles. Adjusting your fascia tissue is a great way to change the way you feel and even how your muscles respond to certain challenges. You can provide extra support to your fascia, or you can simply pull your fascia into a new configuration by providing outside tension with kinesiology tape.
7) Sensory Reminder to Assist Motion
Another great use of Kinesiology tape is to serve as a reminder when trying to improve your form or protect a joint. When you apply kinesiology tape correctly, it provides a gentle pull on the skin when you move outside the approved range of motion. This gentle pull can be used to create a sling that prevents motion, or it can be used to sensorily signal when you are leaving your intended range of motion. To stabilize a knee, for example, kinesiology tape can be placed along the outer sides of the knee and they will tighten when the knee twists out of normal forward-swing alignment.
This mild sensory reminder is often all an athlete needs to actively improve their form and change the way they move. When you already know the motion you are looking to train in, kinesiology tape takes the perfect place of a brace or trainer in reminding your body to move the right way.
If you have a recurring soft-tissue injury or are recovering from a specific soft-tissue injury, consider the value of kinesiology tape in your recovery. Don’t just RICE and wait for the situation to get better. Kinesiology tape can help you ease tension, improve healing rate, and prevent re-injury; whichever is most important to you. The next step is to read up on the many different ways to apply kinesiology tape and put that tape to use.
Whether you are recovering from an injury or looking to up your game on the field, Mueller Sports Medicine is here to offer support with all the sports injury recovery and injury prevention supplies you need. For more insights on kinesiology tape or a guide on how to use kinesiology tape for your unique situation, contact us today! Our team is always happy to work with a new athlete or professional looking for sports medicine solutions. Our phone lines and email inboxes are always open.