MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Kinesiology tape is all the rage. Its proponents claim that it increases cutaneous stimulation, which facilitates motor unit firing, and consequently improves functional performance. But is this just clever marketing, wishful thinking or is it true? To find out, we need reliable data.

The current trial results are sparse, confusing and contradictory. A recent systematic review indicated that kinesiology tape may have limited potential to reduce pain in individuals with musculoskeletal injury; however, depending on the conditions, the reduction in pain may not be clinically meaningful. Kinesiology tape application did not reduce specific pain measures related to musculoskeletal injury above and beyond other modalities compared in the context of included articles. 

The authors concluded that kinesiology tape may be used in conjunction with or in place of more traditional therapies, and further research that employs controlled measures compared with kinesiology tape is needed to evaluate efficacy.

This need for further research has just been met by Korean investigators who conducted a study testing the true effects of KinTape by a deceptive, randomized, clinical trial.

Thirty healthy participants performed isokinetic testing of three taping conditions: true facilitative KinTape, sham KinTape, and no KinTape. The participants were blindfolded during the evaluation. Under the pretense of applying adhesive muscle sensors, KinTape was applied to their quadriceps in the first two conditions. Normalized peak torque, normalized total work, and time to peak torque were measured at two angular speeds (60°/s and 180°/s) and analyzed with one-way repeated measures ANOVA.

Participants were successfully deceived and they were ignorant about KinTape. No significant differences were found between normalized peak torque, normalized total work, and time to peak torque at 60°/s or 180°/s (p = 0.31-0.99) between three taping conditions. The results showed that KinTape did not facilitate muscle performance in generating higher peak torque, yielding a greater total work, or inducing an earlier onset of peak torque.

The authors concluded that previously reported muscle facilitatory effects using KinTape may be attributed to placebo effects.

The claims that are being made for kinesiology taping are truly extraordinary; just consider what this website is trying to tell us:

Kinesiology tape is a breakthrough new method for treating athletic sprains, strains and sports injuries. You may have seen Olympic and celebrity athletes wearing multicolored tape on their arms, legs, shoulders and back. This type of athletic tape is a revolutionary therapeutic elastic style of support that works in multiple ways to improve health and circulation in ways that traditional athletic tapes can’t compare. Not only does this new type of athletic tape help support and heal muscles, but it also provides faster, more thorough healing by aiding with blood circulation throughout the body.

Many athletes who have switched to using this new type of athletic tape report a wide variety of benefits including improved neuromuscular movement and circulation, pain relief and more. In addition to its many medical uses, Kinesiology tape is also used to help prevent injuries and manage pain and swelling, such as from edema. Unlike regular athletic taping, using elastic tape allows you the freedom of motion without restricting muscles or blood flow. By allowing the muscles a larger degree of movement, the body is able to heal itself more quickly and fully than before.

Whenever I read such over-enthusiastic promotion that is not based on evidence but on keen salesmanship, my alarm-bells start ringing and I see parallels to the worst type of alternative medicine hype. In fact, kinesiology tapes have all the hallmarks of alternative medicine and its promoters have, as far as I can see, all the characteristics of quacks. The motto seems to be: LET’S EARN SOME MONEY FAST AND IGNORE THE SCIENCE WHILE WE CAN.

25 Responses to Kinesiology tape, another theatrical placebo?

  • Kinesiology tape is just art deco applied to the body instead of household objects and architecture (1920s and 1930s).

    Any positive effect it produces is psychological — akin to warpaint, except that kinesiology tape tends to amuse the opponent(s) rather than frighten them.

    I call it “vanity tape”, but I’m not in the business of selling placebo products. KinTape is an appropriate name because it sounds like it’s short for: ‘kin useless tape.

    Kinesiology has two meanings: the scientific study of the mechanics of body movements; the alt-med quackery of Applied Kinesiology. I’ll leave the reader to decide which meaning was/is used in the development and marketing of kinesiology tape.

  • At least the Advertising Standards Authority won’t have to revise their adjudication against LimbVolume Ltd t/a Kinesio UK.

  • So, I guess we better stay with the Q-Ray bracelet. The results are equally impressive, and it’s a lot less work. Better still, why not do away with these useless implements and make a donation to some organisation that works for the betterment of mankind, instead of feeding the clowns who come up with this stuff? Unless, oeuf corse, these tapes satisfy some deep-seated desire in the athletic mind to play dress-up.

    While I would not certainly want to question the benefits of moderate and low-risk physical activity, I have been wondering about the psychiatric effects of ‘sports’ for a very long time. One needs only to look around to see that sports practitioners tend to display infantile behaviour with great enthusiasm. Playing dress-up before sports is one example. Taping seems to be another.

    Maybe Pete 628 is right in comparing it to war paint.

  • I use it on various athletes. Agree likely mostly psychological or placebo. Handy adjunct to exercise rehab. However I also give it to patients free of charge for the reasons EE mentioned

  • I dunno about athletes but it works great on patients with neck or shoulder pain who have forward head and rounded shoulders posture. It’s like a little therapist all day saying “shoulders back” who cares why it works if it gets patients better in less time than without it and they think you’re a genius. Im also taking a war painting CEU in tallahassee this December by the PT,PhD,DPT, ATC, CSCC who paints the Seminole mascot every home game. 6 hours of cutting edge kinesiology warpainting miracle knowledge. $500/person or $2000/4

  • Interesting study about Kin Tape. But applying tape to a muscle that is operating optimally and measuring improvement (or lack therof) shouldn’t really say, “Placebo!” It should indicate that in a non-injured, noramlly firing muscle, Kin Tape doesn’t improve muscle function.

    Does it improve function in a muscle that is NOT firing correctly or optimally? That is the question.

    I personally have used K-tape on myself (I like the little tug it gives to my anterior tib while running, and in my study (n=1 (me)), it seems to work well. So if we use K tape (an accepted treatment modality) on patients after telling them that this stuff may be bunk, is it really harmful?

    • harms patients’ wallets, doesn’t it?

      • Patient shows up for treatment. Is found to have weakness in hip abductors. Explain to patient that exercises are essential to get the glute medius working properly again. Also tell patient that this kinsiotape stuff is a newer treatment that theoretically helps to facilitate muscle function. Studies show that it may not be better than placebo, but also will likely cause no physical harm. So, we can also apply the tape if patient wants to try it. Patient tries tape, does exercises to improve glute strength, and improved strength is noted at the next visit. Tape applied again, and patient is instructed in proper application of tape. Uses tape independently prior to running 10 k race and does well. Patient is happy, glute is working well, exercises going well, patient realizes tape no longer needed for optimal function and discontinues use of tape. Continues with exercises to maintain optimal function.

        I live in the US, and most of patients are insured and those insurance companies pay one fee per session. Patient pays a copay, insurance pays an amount as well. This payment is not changed by application of tape. Patient’s wallet is not harmed, nor is the wallet of the insurance company.

        EE, I follow your blog and agree with most of what you write…there is a lot of bunk out there, but I don’t think this particular study is the one that you should cite to complete write off Kinesiology tape.

        I appreciate the ongoing discussion on this topic.

        • I did not mean to completely write off kinesiology tape. my intention was to show that it is hyped and highlight the fact that the evidence is not as solid as those who profit from the hype make us believe.

    • “an accepted treatment modality” — accepted by who; and for what, why, when, where, and how? All forms of quackery have harmful side effects. One fundamental difference between medicine and quackery is that medicine documents harmful effects; quackery just sweeps them under the carpet then proudly proclaims: “This modality is very safe because it has no documented harmful effects.”

      Statistically, it is totally implausible that even an inert placebo produces no harmful effects therefore all treatment modalities that claim to cause no harm are bogus.

  • Sometimes you guys get lost in pedantry. kinetic taping with any sort of tape is very useful for postural correction and exercise facilitation with correct aims.

  • >>an accepted treatment modality” — accepted by who; and for what, why, when, where, and how?

    used widely.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3625789/

    • @akash, thanks for the link to that ‘study’ — using it as evidence to support “an accepted treatment modality” is gold standard comedy 🙂

      You may think that some of us get lost in pedantry, but you seem to be hopelessly lost in statistics, the scientific method, and interpreting studies.

      The conclusion of the study uses the phrase “may be effective” because the authors knew full well that N=20 combined with the study design means that the statistical power of the study is very close to zero.

      Anyone who quotes p-values to four decimal places when N=20 is a pedantic jackass.

  • I injoy listing to these stuff, My question is if kinseo taping is plasepo why all medical professionals still use it.and also maybe there’s effect, but the researcher mistracking to find the real effect of kinseo taping, and that likely accept . Thanks

  • Wierd – I know anecdotes don’t make evidence etc etc, and I’m as cynical as they come over a majority of alternative therapies, particularly where mumbo-jumboy claims are made that are pretty hard to test. I’d agree with Akash – I’d think the main use for this tape is more as a ‘posture reminder’ than all the jumped up claims about muscle firing and increased recovery via other mechanisms – it’s been useful for example, on my rather shit slightly hyper mobile shoulder as a gentle reminder of how I should be sitting/standing to reduce muscle strain and improve my posture – and to that end it has been effective as if it wasn’t there I’d most likely be merrily slouching away oblivious to why I was getting shoulder pain. I’d say any individual benefits claimed are far more likely due to things like this than any pulling the skin and increasing circulation bullshit – as this is an anecdote, if anyone would like to fund a study I’d be happy to participate (though as a pre-biased subject I may skew your results 😉 ) However, as the manufacturers resort to their usual pseudo-scientific nonsense to try to make their products sound unique and effective in more ways than they most probably are, they quite rightly deserve to be critisised. Loudly.

  • I have a real use of kinesiology tape identified!

    As it is sticky and stretchy you can stick things to your feet with it. I personally use it for sticking running cadence sensors to my feet if I choose to run barefoot. The cadence sensors normally hook under shoe laces, but this is not possible if you do not wear shoes. I imagine it could be used for sticking other things to things.

  • I imagine that’s why top athletes use it. Acupuncture too. And cupping. They’re just a bit thick, easily led, and unaware of what is real vs ‘placebo’. Nothing to do with giving them a competitive edge whatsoever.
    Get a grip Ernst, you’re firing off with the intellectual rigour of a dog chasing a bloody bone. Just because kino tape makes no difference to muscle power in a lab setting doesn’t mean that it has no therapeutic effect in the complex system of sports performance. Ever heard of tensigrity systems… Doubt it. Statistics are meaningless unless you know your medicine.

    • Top athletes represent a cornucopia of superstitions, from wearing a particular item of underclothing or a ‘lucky’ charm to going through set rituals before a competition. They firmly believe these things give them a competitive edge, even though there is no rational basis to believe they affect outcomes. I’m not surprised to find some athletes also use acupuncture and cupping. Like you say, they’re easily led — often by their own subjective convictions — and unaware of what is ‘real’ versus placebo.

  • If you have ever used this on bruising you will see how the tape lifts the skin to increase the subcutaneous space for fluid movement, this helps does help with rehabilitation as ROM can be increased with more space for movement. However, as mentioned by others, factors such as pain relief still need in depth research. Though like any product ever the company is going promote their product with however many adjectives they desire.

    • “, this helps does help with rehabilitation as ROM can be increased with more space for movement”
      any evidence?

    • If you have ever used this on bruising you will see how the tape lifts the skin to increase the subcutaneous space for fluid movement, this helps does help with rehabilitation as ROM can be increased with more space for movement.

      For someone like me, who is dealing with skin and other tissues every day, injured as well as healthy, this sentence is pure nonsense. It is, as someone put it, “not even wrong”.

  • KT Tape has recently agreed to settle a lawsuit that claims they have exaggerated the product’s capabilities. The false advertising has led to KT Tape having to set aside more than $1.7 million (USD) to cover the damages.
    https://volleymob.com/kt-tape-settles-lawsuit-false-advertising-claims/

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