We’ve all seen runners strapped up in brightly-coloured tape and we all assume it helps with some sort of injury. But not many of us are sure exactly what the Kinesis Taping Method is all about. – BY TONI HESP
The Kinesis Taping Method was founded by Dr Kenzo Kase, a Japanese chiropractor, who, in 1973, developed his own tape and gained worldwide exposure at the Seoul Olympics when it was used by Japanese athletes. Dr Kase has been practicing in the United States for several years and the tape is now used fairly extensively in the USA and other countries around the world.
How does it work?
The elastic, non-irritating tape has been modified over the years to mimic the qualities of the skin and the design of the tape allows for a longitudinal stretch, but is not designed to stretch horizontally. The thickness of the Kinesio tape is approximately the same as that of the epidermis of the skin. This was done intentionally to limit the body’s perception of weight and sensory stimuli when properly applied. The patient will generally not perceive that there is tape on their body within approximately ten minutes.
The Kinesio tape is comprised of a polymer elastic strand wrapped by 100% cotton fibres and is latex free and hypoallergenic. These cotton fibres allow for evaporation of body moisture and allow for quick drying. The water resistant fibres wick away moisture and allows the patient to bathe or even swim as usual. The adhesive is 100% acrylic and is heat activated, becoming more adherent the longer the Kinesio tape is worn. The acrylic adhesive is applied in a wave-like pattern. This not only assists in the lifting of the skin, but allows for zones in which moisture can escape.
Kinesio taping gives support and stability to joints and muscles without affecting range of movement during the rehabilitation process. In some cases it can improve the range of movement. Kinesio taping aims to give free range of motion in order to allow the body’s muscular system to heal itself biomechanically. Kinesio tape can be used over a longer period of time (three to five days at least) and is therefore more economical.
The combination of the tape’s stretch capabilities, thickness and adhesion properties, allow the Kinesio tape to approximate the skin. This design and its unique application are responsible for the effects achieved with the Kinesio Taping Method.
How does it differ from other methods?
Using a tape which has a different adhesive, is thicker, does not breathe, and has different elastic qualities will not produce the same results. To ensure that muscles have free range of motion, elastic tape with an elasticity of 130-140% of its original length are recommended. This specific elasticity also will not allow an over stretch of the muscles themselves.
Conventional athletic tape is designed to restrict and/or provide support to an injured body part. Application of this tape requires using all of the available stretch. Skin irritation often results due to entrapment of moisture, high latex content and severe compression of skin, muscles and joints. It is typically applied immediately prior to an activity to prevent and protect acute injuries, and is taken off immediately after conclusion of the activity. There are no rehabilitative benefits.
The McConnel Method of taping uses a rigid, very adhesive tape and affects the biomechanics of the patient. It is left on for a shorter period of time due to its constricting nature and adverse skin reaction. The technique is used for neuromuscular re-education of the condition and is widely recognised for its benefits.
Following injury, in the presence of joint effusion, there is decreased motor unit activity in the muscle surrounding the joint. Joint malalignment is often caused by an imbalance of muscular forces around the joint. The elasticity of the tape is effective in the restoration and normalisation of function of the damaged muscles by reducing oedema and providing support while assisting in the conditioning of weakened muscles, through an unrestricted range of motion.
It improves lymphatic and blood flow. The space between the skin and muscle is often reduced due to the congestion of the lymphatic fluid and blood. When a muscle is inflamed, the space between the skin and the muscle is compressed, resulting in a constriction of the flow of lymphatic fluid from the collecting network in the dermis. This compression also applies pressure to the pain receptors beneath the skin. This results in the experience of pain.
For all basic application techniques, before the tape is applied, the skin of the affected area is stretched. This is done by stretching the muscles and joints in the affected area. This stretching, in combination with the stretch capabilities of the Kinesio tape, will create a series of wave-like wrinkles when the body part is returned to the neutral position. Since this ‘lifting’ of the skin increases the space between the skin and subcutaneous tissue, the lymphatic fluid is taken up more readily from the interstitial space to the lymphatic channels. Skin convolutions may be present following the basic application or may appear during normal joint motion. It is believed that even if convolutions are not present, they are occurring. The convolutions aid in the normal flow of blood and lymphatic fluids.
The increase in subcutaneous space and improved lymphatic drainage leads to reduced stimulation of the pain receptors in the dermis. These physiological effects enhance the body’s healing processes, providing a better environment for tissue healing to take place.
In cases where joints or ligaments are injured, the tape should be stretched before application to the skin. The damaged joints or ligaments rely on stretched tape for correction as they are incapable of functioning normally. Whether the tape is stretched or not stretched, the actual application technique may not change.
A Kinesio strip can be applied in the shape of a Y, I, X, Fan, Web and Donut. The shape selected depends on the size of the affected muscle and desired treatment effect.
The Y technique is the most common method of application. It is used for surrounding a muscle to either facilitate or inhibit muscle stimuli. The basic principle of therapeutic taping for weakened muscles is to wrap the tape around the affected muscle. This is accomplished using the Y strip.
The I strip can be used in place of the Y strip for an acutely injured muscle.
The primary purpose of tape application following acute injury is to limit oedema and pain.
The X strip is used when a muscle’s origin and insertion may change depending on the movement pattern of the joint.
The Fan strip is used for lymphatic drainage.
The Web is a modified fan cut. Both base ends are left intact with the strips being cut in the mid section of the KT.
The Donut cut is primarily used for oedema in a focal or sport specific area.
A series of two or three overlapping strips are applied with the centre removed from the KT. The centre cutout, or ‘donut hole’ is placed directly over the area to be treated.
There are two basic application directions for treatment of muscles.
1 For acutely over-used or stretched muscles, the tape is applied from where the muscle ends (insertion) to where the muscle begins (origin) in order to inhibit muscle function. In order to treat muscle pain, Kinesio taping is ineffective unless the skin is stretched. This application is typically used for acute conditions such as sprain or strain, muscle spasm and oedema from injury or surgical procedures. As the muscle fibres contract, the Kinesio tape will induce relaxation in the affected muscle.
2 For chronically weak muscles or when increased contraction is desired, the tape is applied from origin to insertion. This application process is typically used for supportive purposes. As the muscle fibres contract, the Kinesio tape supports the contraction by pulling and stimulating the skin and muscle back towards the point of origin to facilitate muscle function.
Making the grade
The success of the Kinesio Taping Method is dependent upon two factors:
The proper evaluation of the patient’s condition.
The proper application of the Kinesis Taping Method. It is important to apply the Kinesio strip with the correct degree of tension. If too much tension is applied, the effects are diminished. It is better not to have enough tension than too much.
The skin should be free of oils, sweat and lotions and should be cleaned prior to tape application. Any contact with the acrylic adhesive will diminish its adhesive abilities. After application, the tape should be rubbed to activate the heat sensitive glue, taking care not to catch the edges.
Approximately 30 to 60 minutes is required for the glue to become fully activated before the patient can become physically active or shower. If activity occurs prior to this time, the tape may come off. During the first few days, if an edge of the tape has begun to lift, it can be trimmed.
Removing tape from a patient is generally much easier to do when they have bathed or the tape is moist. It is better to remove the tape from the top down. This will be in the direction of the body hair and should limit discomfort.
Pink or black?
The tape is available in a variety of colours (beige, blue, black, pink and red). There is no physical or chemical difference between the colours. The colours were developed to be compatible with colour therapy. For the most part, the colour choice is a matter of individual preference. Some patients do however, report a better response to a specific colour!
REFERENCES: Clinical Therapeutic Applications of the Kinesis Taping Method. 2nd Edition (2003). Kenzo Kase, Jim Wallis and Tsuyoshi Kase.
Kinesio Taping Workbook. 2005. Kinesio Taping Association.
Modern Athlete Expert – Toni Hesp
Physiotherapist in Edenvale, Johannesburg. Has finished 21 Comrades, four Ironmans and two New York Marathons, plus various cycling and canoeing events.