Keep in mind that research does not account for nuances in how tape is applied, as I can tell you firsthand that the craftsmanship of trained clinicians far exceeds “locker room” self-application. This may be one area in which clinicians are ahead of researchers. I’ve recently spent a lot of time volunteering in a clinic recently that frequently uses Kinesiotape. One point noting is that clinicians with formal training from tape companies have far more techniques in their arsenal than someone who just throws tape on areas that feel tight or sore. If you fully immerse yourself in the system, there’s actually quite a depth of thought in the techniques, even if those techniques have not been tested by formal research.
For this article, I’ll use Kinesiotape as a catchall term, but recognize that different brands and methods of similar tape exist (Leukotape, Rocktape, etc), along with more restrictive methods such as McConnell taping. For previous discussion on taping, see Tape Addicts and Shoulder Taping.
Williams (2012) conducted a meta-analysis of previous Kinesiotaping studies, initially surveying ninety six studies but including only ten that met sufficient quality standards for additional analysis. They examined these studies to examine taping’s effect on pain, range of motion, strength, and proprioception.
Undoubtedly the primary reason for anyone using Kinesiotape is due to pain. Authors found only one study out of ten in which Kinesiotaping was shown to improve pain, and even so, the result was clinically insignificant. Note this study was conducted on car accident whiplash sufferers with neck pain, so it’s unclear whether it transfers to repetitive use athletic injuries. Further, pain is often treated indirectly and Kinesiotape may be effective for general effects on muscle length, strength, and proprioception.
Perhaps the most relevant study on range of motion is Hsu (2009), which studied baseball players with shoulder impingement. Most swimmers aren’t using tape unless previously or currently symptomatic, so studies on pain free athletes are perhaps less relevant. Authors measured scapular orientation at twenty four different positions and concluded “the effect of KT is likely to be trivial, or even possibly harmful for certain measurements, and therefore would not be recommended for use in treatment of shoulder impingement syndrome.” More study is needed on range of motion due to the wide mix of joints and patient health statuses included in these studies, at times with conflicting results.
Strength results appear promising, as five strength measures collected in the studies were found to increase significantly. Notably, Hsu found significant strength increases in the lower trapezius strength when taped. No studies showed any strength loss resulting from Kinesiotape. Still, there is insufficient evidence to definitively conclude Kinesiotaping is or is not effective at improving strength.
Studies also measured proprioception. Chang (2010) measured grip strength perception error and found small benefit in healthy subjects, while Halseth(2004) found no significant effects on perception of ankle positioning. Subsequent to the publication of Williams’ meta-analysis, Change (2012) found proprioception improvements in both healthy subjects and baseball pitchers with medial epicondylitis.
Overall the evidence is incomplete, but not definitive in either direction. Most notably, Kinesiotaping has not been tested thoroughly in combination with other procedures. It’s possible that taping may have different effects done as a standalone treatment versus when used to reinforce a clinical procedure (spinal manipulation, massage, dry needling, etc).
My personal opinion is that Kinesiotape may have actual effects but the mechanisms are still unknown. It may take several years to separate taping from the methods that it is frequently paired with. It is still too early to call it a placebo or alternatively, a miracle treatment. That said, because much anecdotal evidence exists with very little observed side effects (other than tape addiction), Kinesiotape deserves consideration as a method to improve muscle length, strength, and timing, especially when used to support other interventions.
- Williams S, Whatman C, Hume PA, Sheerin K. Kinesio taping in treatment and prevention of sports injuries: a meta-analysis of the evidence for itseffectiveness. Sports Med. 2012 Feb 1;42(2):153-64. doi: 10.2165/11594960-000000000-00000.
- Chang HY, Wang CH, Chou KY, Cheng SC. Could forearm Kinesio Taping improve strength, force sense, and pain in baseball pitchers with medial epicondylitis? Clin J Sport Med. 2012 Jul;22(4):327-33. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e318254d7cd.
- Chang HY, Chou KY, Lin JJ, Lin CF, Wang CH. Immediate effect of forearm Kinesio taping on maximal grip strength and force sense in healthy collegiate athletes. Phys Ther Sport. 2010 Nov;11(4):122-7. Epub 2010 Aug 1.
- Halseth T. McChesney JW. DeBeliso M. et al. The effects of Kinesio taping on proprioception at the ankle. J Sports Sei & Med 2004; 3(1): 1-7.
- Hsu YH. Chen WY. Lin HC. et al. The effects of taping on scapular kinematics and muscle performance in baseball players with shoulder impingement syndrome. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2009; 19 (6): 1092-9.
By Allan Phillips. Allan and his wife Katherine are heavily involved in the strength and conditioning community, for more information refer to Pike Athletics.