MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

I am sure we have all seen these colourful tapes that nowadays decorate the bodies of many of our sporting heroes. The tape is supposed to be good for athletic performance – but not just that, it is also promoted for all sorts of health conditions, for instance, low back pain.

But is it worth the considerable investment?

This systematic review investigated the effectiveness of ‘Kinesiology Tape’ (KT) for patients with non-specific low back pain.

The researchers included all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in adults with chronic non-specific low back pain that compared KT to no intervention or placebo as well as RCTs that compared KT combined with exercise against exercise alone. The methodological quality and statistical reporting of the eligible trials were measured by the 11-item PEDro scale. The quality of the evidence was assessed using the GRADE classification. Pain intensity and disability were the primary outcomes. Whenever possible, the data were pooled through meta-analysis.

Eleven RCTs were included in this systematic review. Two clinical trials compared KT to no intervention at the short-term follow-up. Four studies compared KT to placebo at short-term follow-up and two trials compared KT to placebo at intermediate-term follow-up. Five trials compared KT combined with exercises or electrotherapy to exercises or spinal manipulation alone. No statistically significant difference was found for most comparisons.

The authors concluded that very low to moderate quality evidence shows that KT was no better than any other intervention for most the outcomes assessed in patients with chronic non-specific low back pain. We found no evidence to support the use of KT in clinical practice for patients with chronic non-specific low back pain.

So, is KT worth the often considerable investment for patients with back trouble?

Or is the current popularity of KT more of a triumph of clever marketing over scientific evidence?

I let you answer this one.

23 Responses to Kinesiology tape: a triumph of marketing over evidence

  • The kineseology tape points to an interesting paradox. The paradox is this: academic physiotherapy is now very good.

    However, “on the ground” nonsense interventions like this kineseotape, acupuncture (sorry – dry needling), mobilisations, and overservicing through repeat pilates visits persist. These interventions are every bit as crappy as the nonsense that chiropractors sell.

    Moreover, in many countries the physiotherapy professional associations persist in advertising courses and materials that perpetuate this nonsense. And the professional associations and “educators”make considerable money from it.

    So, is the next frontier to put pressure on physical therapy professional associations to financially, and in their governance, dissociate themselves from these crappy interventions?

  • The debate about kinesiotape has been going on within the physiotherapy profession for a while. Is the mechanism of action physiological or psychological?

    Physiotherapy generally offers a highly science based approach to clinical practice. However we are not immune to using the occasional daft placebo. As is clearly the case with k tape.

    This systematic review is very welcome and will hopefully help to put the debate about k tape quietly to rest.

  • The debate about kinesiotape has been dragging on within the physiotherapy profession for a while. Is the mechanism of action physiological or psychological?

    Physiotherapy generally offers a highly science based approach to clinical practice. However we are not immune to using the occasional daft placebo. As the k tape example clearly demonstrates.

    This systematic review is very welcome and will hopefully help to put the debate about k tape quietly to rest.

  • Ha ha true but I think physiotherapy is more prepared to be guided by evidence than other comparable professions. In general we are early adopters of new ideas and we do eventually drop outdated interventions. Therapeutic ultrasound has (I hope) finally bitten the dust.

    • That’s good to hear! Can I ask take this opportunity to ask you a question?

      Here in Canada, more and more physiotherapists do additional training (up to 4 years, in highly suspicious private schools) in order to become osteopaths. The reason behind that, I assume, is that it “allows” them to treat a wider range of problems (any medical issue actually, from allergies to digestive issues and even inflections). Also, osteopathy is more popular than physiotherapy here, so it probably pays more.

      Any thoughts on that?

  • A physio friend of mine despairs of this tripe. She told me it was originally used as an adjunct during rehab of Achilles’ tendon ruptures, for which it was and still is useful but people started sticking the stuff anywhere and everywhere for no discernible benefit.

    • but it looks very trendy!
      today I had lunch in a nice restaurant, and next table there was a chap in shorts showing off his multi-colour KT around his knee. judging from his gait, there was nothing wrong with his knee. but he seemed very proud of himself.

      • I was having lunch in a nice restaurant, and noticed a similar phenomenon. A fellow took out some really trendy reading glasses before looking at the menu. Judging from the way he effectively ordered his lunch, there was nothing wrong with his vision. But he, too, seemed quite proud of himself.

      • Talking about looks: Did you ask my agent for the permission to use those pictures of me wearing the kinesiology tape?!

        • I knew anyone with a body like this would not mind.

        • For editorial (rather than commercial) use, at least in the UK, there is no requirement to obtain the consent of the subject of a photograph before it is published, provided that they are not misrepresented. A license from the copyright holder (usually the photographer) is required, however, and there are standard fees for this. Unlicensed usage is intellectual property theft.

          • Not so uncommon for me to see that not all my jokes land. Guess I will have to work on my comedic skills…
            🙂

      • @edzard ‘judging from his gait, there was nothing wrong with his knee’

        If you can tell by looking at someone eating their lunch whether they have knee problems, I’m truly in awe of your skills. I look forward to the RCT which validates this ability!

  • One of the big firms producing this chose to pay out $1.750.000 instead of proving their marketing was credible: https://topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/closed-settlements/826355-athletic-kt-tape-false-advertising-class-action-settlement/

  • Interesting in light of some of the comments…

    “This review found insufficient and inconclusive evidence from randomized controlled trials to
    inform on the role of KT for treating people with chronic low back pain in current clinical practice.”

    “Based on the findings of our systematic review, more studies
    aiming to evaluate the effects of KT at both intermediate and long term should be conducted as only two
    trials53,54 presented a follow-up period longer than 12 weeks.”

  • I think it is seen by users as a statement that they are rough and tough; slightly injured, with the tape to show it, but still battling on. And the marketeers no doubt encourage the “walking wounded heroes” in their delusion.

  • @Edzard
    “Posted in back pain, bogus claims, clinical trial, commercial interests, gullible consumer”.
    Perhaps physiotherapy should be added for accuracy?

    • @Quit_quiro

      Wholeheartedly agree with you. Indeed academic physiotherapy is more accurate that quackery such as KT or chiro.

  • Is there a way to blind application of the tape? Applying the tape incorrectly? I’m not even sure exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. Reducing the range of motion?

  • Kinesiology taping .. save your money or buy a better good luck charm. Kinesiology tape is quite a nice colorful decoration. Its done by gullible half wits at the lunatic fringe of alternative physiotherapy. All serious studies are showing that it cannot be recommended at all. “No evidence” in German means “Keine klinische Signifikanz”. Voodoo practitioners don’t like to talk about evidence even if the results are overwhelming because it’s not a medicine it’s a belief. Here is another compilation of studies:
    https://evidenzbasiertephysiotherapie.de/kinesio-tape/

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