5 minutes reading time (940 words)

What's the Deal with the Tape?

Similar to the current trend of marketing driving training (discussed in this article), marketing appears to have a similar and undeniable impact on services provided in the world of physical medicine. From the latest and greatest in modalities such as laser therapy and electrical muscle stimulation to musculoskeletal injury interventions such as kinesio tape (KT), the colorful tape that gained popularity from the Olympics.

Earlier this week, a GP client was speaking of someone they know who recently got “taped” because they were having knee pain while running. This client went on to explain that a few days after getting taped, the very same person went out for a run and felt a “tearing and pop” in the same knee that had been taped and is now in worse pain than before.

Our client wanted to know, “What's the deal with the tape? Is it effective or is it a cheap trick?”

Kinesio Tape: Legit or Hype?
What seems to be at the center of any benefit from the application of KT is something known as novel sensory input. Basically, this means when you tape someone, they feel it. Sensory input changes “output” – in this case – motor control and perception of pain.

In the case of the painful knee (or any joint/muscle), stick some tape on it and odds are in your favor that the patient will feel slightly better for a brief period of time.
But is this really “therapy”, getting at the root of the problem, or simply masking pain symptoms?

First, we must start with an understanding of pain. Pain is your body’s way a telling you something is wrong. Pain with movement indicates a movement problem and no amount of tape will ever solve a movement/biomechanical problem. However, taping is very effective at altering proprioceptive/sensory feedback. Sensory input will dampen pain perception, thus making it easier for your brain to ignore pain signals and you are now feeling “less pain”. This is known as “sensory gating”.

You feel less pain and you are happy, so what’s the problem?

You have disrupted the injured tissue’s ability to tell the truth, now you are more likely to continually overload a compromised structure and worsen the condition. To illustrate this phenomenon, one only needs to recall Manteo Mitchell, the sprinter who sustained a fracture of his fibula – wearing KT – while running the 400m in 2012 Olympics. The applied KT allowed the athlete to distribute more load on a painful and compromised ankle. The tape did its job. It blocked pain and allowed the athlete to feel capable of competing, but unfortunately the result was a worse condition than before the tape was applied. Keep in mind, this isn’t always the outcome of taping but it certainly is a risk one must understand.

Not only are companies claiming the pain relieving benefits of KT, now some are stating how their tape prevents injury or enhances performance. Just go to their websites and read for yourself. Spider Tech’s website has the tag line: “Recovery, Performance, Prevention” and Rock Tape (on their About Us page) has this to say:
“I discovered that the tape can be used to ENHANCE PERFORMANCE. I found that taping in advance of exercise promotes increased blood flow to the muscles, thereby reducing fatigue.”
Marketing with fancy words and convenient KT placement on some elite athletes does wonders for a product’s popularity. But are the claims substantiated?

There are few high-quality studies on taping, but a recent systematic review of the research literature revealed that KT had insufficient evidence to support its use for musculoskeletal injury. Studies have shown that benefits from KT are generally minor, brief and inconsistent in nature. The value of taping is unclear, with several experts dismissing the effectiveness of taping as placebo only. The systematic review conclude that KT did provide short-term pain relief and even range of motion (ROM) improvement, but failed to offer any long-term results to patients.

In Closing
For the most part, taping is a lot of marketing hype. At best, taping is mostly a minor and imprecise method of pain control. The amount of tape being used by athletes lately is silly and, in my opinion, its popularity has more to do with marketing than results. Sure taping may make someone feel better and in a “results now” society this can go a long way to keep patients satisfied. However, there is no long-term solution to be found with any amount of tape.

Where does one turn for a long-term solution?

At GP, we consider ourselves part of a growing body of providers who strive to identify the repetitive movements and postural abnormalities that cause pain and discomfort by performing thorough and detailed examinations. Assessments and individualized treatment plans aim to identify the underlying cause of your condition rather than merely alleviating symptoms.

The more accurate the assessment, the more accurately treatment will target a patient's pain generators. At GP, we stress a collective and active approach on the part of each of our patients through education. By clearly educating each patient on their condition and why they are performing prescribed exercises, the focus becomes about patient empowerment and providing them with a sense of what they can do for themselves. This typically results in great patient compliance and shorter treatment plans, with the average patient realizing fully recovery in 4-8 treatments. Many patients quickly improve in as little as 2-3 treatments.

Reference:
Mostafavifar M, Wertz J, Borchers J. A systematic review of the effectiveness of kinesio taping for musculoskeletal injury. Phys Sportsmed. 2012 Nov;40(4):33-40. 

 
More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/resetting-bodys-function-post-injury/

https://gallagherperformance.com/technique_and_performance/

https://gallagherperformance.com/why-therapists-should-understand-strength/
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