Does Kinesiology Tape Really Work? Breaking Down The Science To Improve Your Performance

Kinesiology Tape (AKA KT Tape, RockTape, Kinesio Tape) is used a lot by athletes. We hear claims of pain reduction and reduced inflammation. But does kinesiology tape work and how?

As a sports chiropractor who works with a lot of athletes I often get these questions. In this video I go over how kinesiology tape works, when it is a good option for pain relief, and the mechanisms and science behind how it helps. We also go over how to apply K-tape properly and how to take kinesiology tape off without pain.

I also give a demonstration of how to self apply kinesiology tape to help with tennis elbow pain.

Video Transcription

You know, you may have noticed someone around town or at a professional sporting event might have noticed that they have a colorful tape on their body, sometimes referred to as Kinesiology tape or KT tape or rock tape. And you’re wondering, what does that do? Does it have medication in it?  Is there something to house applied? Or, heck, is it just a placebo? Just makes them look cool? And today, I will break all of that down for you.

I’m Dr. Brant Pedersem. I’m a sports chiropractor, and I work a lot with athletes, many of them professional and Olympic athletes. And there are tips that they know and tricks that they know to keep themselves performing better and feeling better, recovering faster, and reducing the pain levels that they get as well. And I will share with you how you can use kinesiology to help that.

I’m going to answer a few questions that I routinely get. Is the tape magic? How does it work? What’s it good for? How do I apply it to get the maximum benefit? And then, lastly, how do I take it off?

No, the tape is not magic. However, you might feel the effects. Feel like magic. To take something that’s pretty inexpensive, readily available, and easily packed in your bag and to be able to throw it on snowboarding or out surfing, running, playing soccer, tennis, be able to put something on quickly, easily, and have it decrease your pain and improve your function. It can seem like magic.

I teach my patients that there are three things, three ways that it helps. The first is by helping with inflammation. How does it help with inflammation? You see our skin. We can see the outside of it, but we’re built kind of like lasagna.

Lasagna’s got those noodle layers. And in between the noodle layers is red sauce, right? Some meat, too. That red sauce was built the same way. So we have our epidermis, dermis subcutaneous layers, and fat fascia layers that go down to our muscles.

And in between those layers is fluids like lymph and blood, right? Kinesiology tape. Attaching to the skin as we move back and forth helps pull those layers of Lasagna, those noodle layers, apart. And doing that allow for better fluid exchange. That helps to reduce inflammation in an area.

The second way that it helps is by reducing pain. And I will drop down into a little bit of neurology here. And it’s cool. I’m a nerd. So neurologically, the receptors for touch in your skin, those receptors fire back to your spinal cord inhibitory, meaning they dampen or silence.

Help to silence the signals coming in from your C fibers. Your C fibers are your pain fibers. So you know this from when you would, let’s say, hit your hand as a kid, and your mom would come over, and she’d rub it. Maybe your dad would come over and rub it like this. And they were doing that not because they knew neurology but because they knew that their parents had done that for them and that that reduced the pain, right?

The exact opposite happens. If you wanted to feel more pain, you hit your hand and then you keep it entirely still and stare at it. That would heighten your pain awareness. So by putting the tape on there, you’re stretching those cutaneous receptors, firing them as you’re moving back and forth. They fire back inhibitory to your spinal cord at the C fibers.

The pain fibers and therefore dampen, decrease the pain perception. Right. Does it take it away completely? Not usually. Does it take it away significantly so that you can notice it?

Most of the time? That’s pretty cool. Number three allows us to cue the body into a better biomechanical position. So if you were someone that rounded your shoulders like this and I was to come up and say, tapping here, bring your shoulder back, you could do that, right? I didn’t push your shoulder back, I just cued you, and I gave you a reminder you bring your shoulders back.

The tape can act the same way. If we put the tape on to help you move into a proper position, that can help you biomechanically reduce pain in your body. Pretty awesome. Lastly, I get asked, is there something in the tape that is giving those properties? Is there medicine in there or something?

No, there isn’t. That’s all just based on the principles of how the tape moves and how it affects your skin, and how it’s applied. What the tape does have is a specific weave. If I tear the back of the tape here, you’ll notice that it stretches a little bit, and then it reaches an end stretch where it doesn’t stretch anymore. That’s important when you look at like a white athletic tape that we think of when back in the day when we tape someone’s ankle; that white athletic tape has absolutely no stretch characteristic to it at all.

And some other tapes, maybe even wraps like Ace wrap and things, they almost have an unlimited amount of stretch. But Kinesio tape, it comes to a particular spot, and then it stops. So it’s that ability to stretch but then have an endpoint to its stretch that gives it its principles and how it works physiologically with your body.

Well, if it is a joint or a muscle or a ligament or a tendon and you have pain in that area, kinesiology tape, most of the time, is something that you can use. There are contraindications to using Kinesiology tape, so you can look on the package and see what those are. But they’re pretty rare. And most of us athletes getting out and playing, doing things we love, should be able to use Kinesio tape without any problems. So it’s frequently used for Achilles, ankles, and our knees.

We see it used a lot. And there are a lot of different things you can treat for iliotibial band syndrome, shoulder problems, neck, and low back pain, tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, wrist; you name it. Kinesiology tape can be applied. And hey, here’s the cool thing. You can buy it cheaply, apply it quickly, and take it off if it doesn’t work. That’s fine. It was an easy experiment.

The type of tape I use most often in the office is called KT tape. They’re one of the manufacturers and make one that I find stays on for a long time. It’s easy to apply, and it’s good quality. So what would you do if you opened up? I’m going to show you how to tape properly. If you had a tennis elbow, okay?

So in this patch, there are three pieces of it, and you can get it in longer lengths and rolls instead of precut. I love precut. If you get a roll, make sure that you round the corners. That helps it so that the edges don’t get caught and come off. When you do go to apply it, you want to clean the skin first.

What we usually use in the office is like an alcohol prep pad, but that gets the oils and the soap. Do things like that to your skin so it’ll stick longer. And if you do that, usually the tape will last two or three, sometimes four days between applications. The tape is waterproof so that you can get in the shower or the bath, not a problem. Just when you get out, I tell patients to pat dry instead of rubbing the towel back and forth because it’s the pulling up of an edge that gets it caught when you go to apply it, most of the time.

And there are different ways to apply the tape based on other things. But this is the most common way to get you by most of the time if you’re going to tear a little bit of the tail on one end off, and I like to pull that back. Then I’m going to take, and this is the most important thing, you’re going to stretch the skin, not the tape. When most people get it wrong, they’ve taken and pulled the tape like they take that stretch characteristic we talked about; they take it out of the tape. So if I have tennis elbow, I will bend my wrist here, putting a stretch on these tissues.

It’s called the extensor wad muscles. And I will apply that tape just a little bit above that spot on my elbow where it would be hurting. When you have tennis elbow out here, I will pull the end off, never putting any stretch into the end of the tape. And now you see I haven’t touched the tape; I can pull off the tape like this again. There’s a little stretch that’s coming into it.

So I’m going to stretch my arm, stretch the tissue. I’m going to apply this without putting any stretch on it, right over that area. And then I’m going to bring it down. And then I’ll put a little bit here. Again, without putting stretch.

When you put the tape on, you will want to take and rub it. That helps activate the adhesive in it heat activated on the ends. Instead of rubbing it back this way, I rub it, so it doesn’t pull back the ends. And then, if you’ve done it correctly, you’ll see those little puckering. That slight puckering is those channels forming to allow them, as we talked about with the lasagna and the red sauce allowing the fluid exchange.

It should be comfortable. It shouldn’t feel like it binds anything. I got a little bit of a wrinkle there. It’s not perfect, but it’ll still work just fine. Okay.

That’s how you would apply Kinesio tape. At first, if you have a lot of hair on a body part, you might want to trim that hair or shave it down a little bit. I don’t have tons of hair, but I find that when I first put it on, it’ll move around a little bit, and it’ll feel like it’s pulling on the hair a bit. And then it usually calms down. And I don’t think that it’s if it’s over an area of the hair.

So the same way that I applied the tape to my elbow for a tennis elbow application could be done here for a golfer’s elbow application. Or it could be done for patellofemoral pain syndrome around the knee, or it could be done for patellar tendinitis or biceps tendonitis, or shoulder problems online, and we’ll put a link down below. You can find tons of guides for how and when to apply tape.

Usually, when you take the tape off, you’re just going to grab the end slowly; pull it like that, not a big deal. But if you feel like it’s dragging on too much, you can just add olive oil. Most people have that in their kitchen or baby oil; you rub it into the tape. You’d leave it there for three to five minutes and then that will deactivate the adhesive and will pull right off. Have a great day and I hope you get out and do something you love today.