KT-Tape – A Kinesiology Fix or Placebo Effect?

KT-Tape – A Kinesiology Fix or Placebo Effect?

You may have seen pro-athletes covered in long strips of tape stretched over various muscle groups. There was also the 2012 Olympics where many competitors were seen sporting multi-colored adhesive sashes.

This is KT or Kinesio-Tape which alleges improvement in lymphatic and blood circulation while allowing for continued full range of motion (ROM). It has been reported as decreasing pain, reducing inflammation, and improving recovery times. It has also been reported as having no evidence of influence on physical improvement.

Is KT-Tape for real using kinesiology (kin-ee-see-ology) as its healing guide or a placebo affect of yet another fleeting trend?

Not So New

Kinesiology is the study of human movement through physiological, mechanical and psychological mechanisms. It is particularly used in orthopedic and bio-mechanic strength and conditioning. This is where KT-Tape gets its name.

Invented by Japanese chiropractor Kenzo Kase in the 1970’s this therapy has only recently gained notable momentum. The company website claims,

“…it [KT-Tape] can alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, relax muscles, enhance performance, and help with rehabilitation as well as supporting muscles during a sporting event.”

Lifting for Repair

It was found that when using KT-Tape, its alleged mechanism shows interesting promise. The tape is able to be stretched over half its length, applied to a muscle group, such as the quads, and lift the skin without impeding movement.

The objective to lifting the skin is to also lift the facia (white filmy material covering muscle) as well as surrounding soft tissue. By doing this, inflammation, which often increases during strenuous activity, is removed from pain receptors that would normally be firing if such a space were not created.

According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy (vol 38, issue 7, 2008),

“…investigators have shown clinical improvement in patients with grade III acromioclavicular separations, anterior shoulder impingement, and hemiplegic shoulders.”

The study goes on to list the targeted benefits of KT-Tape,

  • To provide a positional stimulus through the skin
  • To align fascial tissues
  • To create more space by lifting fascia and soft tissue above area of pain/inflammation
  • To provide sensory stimulation to assist or limit motion
  • To assist in the removal of edema by directing exudates toward a lymph duct

Beyond Minimal Evidence

It seems that clinical evidence and detailed studies are our only way to gauge the inner workings and efficiencies of practically any application that alleges to enhance human progress. This, of course, is with good reason as charlatans always lurk around every corner.

However, sometimes minimal evidence can be debunked by two things, observational evidence and the placebo effect. This can be seen in homeopathy and acupuncture which have a vast history of successful applications even though the overall mechanism is completely baffling to science.

In the case of KT-Tape, we see scores of observational evidence as athletes of the highest standard and professionalism swear by the unknown workings of this therapy.

Psychologically, there is a placebo effect (the brain is convinced into healing even though the therapy may be unsubstantiated or purposely benign) which occurs in approximately 30% of patients.

John Brewer, head of sport and exercise sciences and director of sport at the University of Bedfordshire in the U.K comments on the placebo effect of KT-Tape,

“I’m still struggling to come to terms with how tape that is placed on skin can have any real, major effect on performance, other than potentially, a psychological effect….The actual putting on of the tape sometimes is almost part of that ritual. It’s almost part of their uniform for the sport that they’re doing, part of their kit. It makes them feel ready for action.”

The only way to find out if KT-Tape works is to give it a try for yourself. Whether scientific, observational or placebo if it works, it works, and that’s that. Talk to your doctor or orthopedist about KT-Tape and see if it may be a good idea to use for sports injury prevention or address acute trauma.