Kinesiology Tape: Friend or Dangerous Foe?

Think twice before you grab that roll of kinesiology tape. Are you making matters worse?

Have you ever seen the best athletes in the world strapped up with colorful tape? Have you ever used kinesio tape yourself or cruised down the aisles of your local pharmacy and wondered what it actually does? (I use “kinesio tape” as short for kinesiology tape, and not in reference to any particular brand.)

I found myself asking the same question, so I recently took a continuing education course about kinesio taping methods and how they could be incorporated into my daily practice. After taking the class, I had a feeling something wasn’t right, so I took it upon myself to do some in-depth research.

Kinesio Tape Research Is Flawed

The research on kinesio tape is completely flawed, and trying to determine its efficacy can make your head spin. I did a basic search for the effects of taping on various injuries on Pub Med and most of the results suggested the positive findings can be attributed to placebo effect, with no true increase in strength.

The companies that sell kinesio tape have gone to great lengths to do their own research and “prove” how this stuff really works. I don’t know about you, but when I hear of companies performing their own research, I’m a bit skeptical due to the obvious bias.

What is Your Body Saying?

Advocates of kinesio tape will say they are doing good work and providing people in pain with some relief. That doesn’t work for me. They don’t get a free pass for “trying” to do well. What they are doing is potentially disastrous.

If your coach or trainer is taping you up to get through a WOD or training session, they are doing you and your injury a huge disservice. However, trainers get a pass from me in this situation, as they don’t have as much training and may not understand the underlying causes of musculoskeletal dysfunction.

So here’s where I am going to be critical. If you go to a doctor and his or her first step to fixing your injury is to apply kinesio tape, I have a big problem with that.

“Contrary to popular belief, pain is not weakness leaving the body. It’s your body telling you something is going wrong and you better listen up.”

Let’s say you have been dealing with an injury for a while now that has continued to get worse. The pain is your body’s warning system telling you something bad is going on and you should stop doing whatever you are doing. Contrary to popular belief, pain is not weakness leaving the body. It’s your body telling you something is going wrong and you better listen up.

Kinesio tape does a pretty good job at reducing the symptom (pain). The problem is, it does nothing to improve the function. Any treatment that only focuses on a symptom and not function can be dangerous.

Kinesio Tape Masks Pain Signals

Maybe you have been dealing with low back pain from time to time, which seems to be getting a little worse each day. What if the back pain is actually caused by something more serious, such as a disc injury? The pain or tightness you’re feeling may be your body’s protective mechanism trying to keep you from beating the disc up any more.

“In any injury treatment, the goal should always be to improve tissue quality and function.”

If you or your practitioner decides to apply kinesio tape to the muscles of the low back, the pain and tension will subside. But the disc problem is still there, and now it’s even more exposed. Those muscles will no longer tighten up to protect the injury, as the tape is letting them relax.

Now you don’t have the pain or tightness telling you to stop, so you get back to training. The disc injury is exposed to even greater forces, which could cause a minor symptom to develop into a full-blown problem. Once the disc goes, you will never be the same again. The same idea applies to areas that have partial tears, weakness, or damage.

What Is Tape Good For?

Kinesio tape could be used to alleviate some of the pain after a grueling workout or difficult event. It can be used to help reduce some inflammation and improve blood flow to the area.

As stated in my previous article, the majority of injuries are due to tissue dysfunction. The tape will do nothing to actually improve the tissue, but will encourage healing once the dysfunction is fixed.

Who Should Use It?

  • If there is a lot at stake for an elite athlete, they must weigh the risk/reward of using kinesio tape to deal with pain.
  • It may allow them to participate, but it does nothing to improve the tissue function.
  • Always proceed with caution and listen to your body when you feel pain.

Who Shouldn’t Be Using It?

  • People who are injured and trying to get back out there to train or participate should not use kinesio tape.
  • As much as we hate pain, it serves as a kick in the butt to let us know to back off a bit.
  • Simply ignoring discomfort could aggravate the issue to a point where you can’t do anything.

Let’s Actually Fix the Injury

The best soft tissue doctors in the world are trained in the Integrative Diagnosis system, which focuses on accurately diagnosing the injury and applying the correct treatment with the goal of improving overall function.

In any injury treatment, the goal should always be to improve tissue quality and function. Anything that deviates from that goal will produce temporary and sometimes disastrous results.

If you find you have to cover yourself in tape just to get through an everyday workout, please take the time to consider the potential danger and ramifications of what you are actually doing: hiding the pain.

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Photo courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.

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