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The truth about Kinesiotape: Debunking the myth of its effectiveness and exploring truths.


Kinesiotape, or k-tape, gained popularity in the human sports and physical therapy realm in the late 90s. Now making its way into the equine industry for its supposed ability to improve muscle function and reduce pain. However, there is a growing body of research that suggests that k-tape may not be as effective as many presume. In light of the many claims seen on social media, this blog will explore the controversial findings related to the most popular statements and will end with a review of the primary proven mechanisms.


Myth 1: Kinesiotape will improve muscle strength


Untrue. The only thing that will increase muscle strength is strength training and/or rehabilitation. It is not possible to achieve these gains by simply applying a piece of stretchy tape. Myofibers, which are the basic units of muscle tissue, can only undergo cross-sectional growth through a process called hypertrophy, which occurs as a result of regular exercise and progressive overload [4] [5].


  • Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (2016) found that k-tape did not improve muscle activation or strength in healthy individuals [1].

  • Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (2011) found that k-tape did not improve muscle strength in individuals with chronic ankle instability [2].

  • Open Journal of Occupational Therapy (2016) measured perceived sports performance with results indicating that there were no significant differences between the Kinesio-tape and no tape trials [3].

  • Systematic review published in the Journal of Athletic Training (2018) indicates that there was no significant difference in muscle activation or strength between k-tape and a placebo tape [6].


Advice: If your therapist tells you that this tape application will improve your horse's strength or muscle activation, tread cautiously. The only scientifc way to increase cross sectional size of myofibrils is through periodized training. Some studies have been able to demonstrate the effect of visualization on the activation of motor units [7] which is very cool but highly challenging to replicate with our equines.


Myth 2: Kinesio tape recruits new motor units (proposes increased muscle activation)


Not proven. Motor unit recruitment refers to the process by which the central nervous system activates muscle fibers through the stimulation of motor neurons. This process is controlled by the brain and spinal cord, which receive input from various sources such as sensory receptors and descending motor pathways. Research has shown that motor unit recruitment is not affected by mechanoreceptors, which are sensory receptors (located in the skin, muscles, joints) that respond to mechanical stimuli such as pressure, touch, and vibration.


  • Journal of Neurophysiology (2015) investigated the effects of mechanical stimulation on motor unit recruitment in human subjects. The researchers found that while mechanical stimulation can modulate the firing rate of motor neurons, it does not affect the recruitment of new motor units [9]. This suggests that the central nervous system is responsible for controlling motor unit recruitment, regardless of peripheral sensory input.

  • Journal of Applied Physiology (2001) compared the effects of muscle vibration, which activates mechanoreceptors, on motor unit recruitment in healthy individuals. The researchers found that muscle vibration did not affect motor unit recruitment, further supporting the idea that motor unit recruitment is controlled by the central nervous system [10].

  • Journal of Sports Science Medical (2004) study found that kinesio tape did not increase muscle activation (motor unit recruitment) in the quadriceps muscles during a squat exercise [11].

  • Journal of Biomedical Engineering (2011) study found that kinesio tape did not increase muscle activity or vertical jump performance in healthy inactive subjects supporting the absence of new motor unit recruitment [12].


Advice: While many k-tape claims boast the efficacy of "stimulating neurons" or "activating new pathways" especially post-injury, be aware this is not scientifically proven to date.


Myth 3: K-tape can mobilize large joints such as the sacroiliac joint (SIJ)


This one is entirely untrue. K-tape is not designed to mobilize large joints, but rather to provide support and reduce pain. To entirely understand this concept, one must dive deep into study on the anatomy and physiology but once you understand the cellular components of connective tissue you can appreciate that a tape application cannot yield the force required to mobilize joints. Only licensed manual therapists are trained to mobilize joints as this requires a specific understanding of joint motion and the required directional forces. A joint mobilization requires Gr2+ (force/amplitude) with chiropractics being a Gr4+, neither of which tape is strong enough to emit. If this one was true there would be no need for reduction surgeries following dislocation.


  • Journal of Physical Therapy Science, K-tape does not have any significant effect on prevention of joint injury [15].

  • International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy (2013) human study measured shoulder range of motion in k-tape group and control group undergoing conventional physical therapy and found no significant difference in ROM measures between groups immediately after and one week later [14].

  • International Journal of Physiotherapy (2014) found significant improvment in range of motion following manual joint mobilization techniques over k-tape application [13].


Advice: If your therapist tells you that the tape application will restore pelvic alignment, ask for journals, texts, or scholarly articles to support this claim. While taping post-injury may show some benefits for pain modulation, it cannot replace manual joint mobilization techniques for improving joint range of motion. If you are looking for a tool to mobilize large joints, K-tape is not the best option but a qualifed profressional who studied in the field of licensed manual therapy is.


Myth 4: Applying k-tape in certain directions can change muscle activation patterns


If you are still on fence and want to give it a try then at least be cognisant that this statement and the next one are also false. The direction of tape application has not been proven to change muscle activation or strength.


  • Journal of Medecine (2106) comparing the direction of tape application on muscle and EMG confirmed that the direction of application did not show any effect [16].

  • Journal of Manual Therapy (2013) found no effect of directional application or increase in muscle strength in healthy subjects compared to without kinesiology taping [17].


Myth 5: Specific k-tape tensions produce specific effects


Untrue. Kinesiology tape tension may be important for application and comfort, but the exact guidelines remain unknown.


  • British Journal of Sports Medecine (2015) found that specific ranges of tension for specific effects have not been proven [21].

  • Journal of Performance Health Research (2015) study showed a modest increase in blood flow under kinesiology tape regardless of the tension applied [22].


So now that we know what kinesio tape doesn't do, lets look at what it does do and what is proven.


As noted above, findings suggest that kinesio tape does not directly stimulate motor units.


Instead, it is believed that kinesio tape works by stimulating mechanoreceptors in the skin, which in turn stimulates the nervous system and helps to reduce pain and inflammation.


The use of kinesio tape may facilitate lymphatic drainage and thereby reduce short term pain. There are some scholarly articles that have been published on the effectiveness of k-tape in these areas however keep in mind, pain reduction is short term at best.


  • Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation (2022) examined the effects of kinesio tape on lymphatic drainage in post-operative participants. The results of the study showed that kinesio tape was effective in increasing lymphatic flow in the treated area compared to the control group [18].

  • Journal of Physical Therapy Science (2109) investigated the effects of kinesio tape on pain reduction in patients with knee osteoarthritis. The results showed that kinesio tape was effective in reducing acute pain and thereby assisted in improvement of knee function in these patients [19].

  • Systematic review published in the Journal of Sports Medicine (2012) analyzed the evidence for the effectiveness of kinesio tape in treating musculoskeletal pain. The review concluded that kinesio tape might be effective in reducing short term pain only in patients with various musculoskeletal conditions, however there was insufficent evidence for any effect on strength or mobility [20].


In Conclusion


While there is still much to be learned about the mechanisms of kinesio tape, it is clear that application primarily stimulates mechanoreceptors in the skin, rather than directly recruiting motor units.


There is limited evidence to support its use for improving muscle function or joint range of motion, but there is some evidence to support the effectiveness in facilitating lymphatic drainage which can result in reducing pain. Therefore, while k-tape may provide temporary pain relief, tread cautiously when presented with bogus claims that the tape will increase your horse's muscle development or mobilize large joints. This is simply not how physiology works.


Try not to believe everything you read on social media and when in doubt consult with a qualifed professional (i.e. someone who went to university or college for health professions or a licensed manual therapist) before believing in the efficacy of k-tape for a given injury or condition.


Hopefully this article helps horse owners and therapists to review relevant science when it comes to therapeutic goals for the horse. Personally, I have not used k-tape in my practice beyond acute injury management for the above reasons noted. Instead, my practice combines manual techniques in conjunction with motor control exercises which is one of the only ways to recruit motor units, especially post-injury.


Thank you for taking the time to explore this science and make evidence informed decisions behalf of the horse.


References


  1. Wilson V, Douris P, Fukuroku T, Kuzniewski M, Dias J, Figueiredo P. The immediate and long-term effects of kinesiotape® on balance and functional performance. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2016 Apr;11(2):247-53. PMID: 27104058; PMCID: PMC4827367.

  2. Briem, K., Eythörsdöttir, H., Magnúsdóttir, R. G., Pálmarsson, R., RúnarsdÖttir, T., & Sveinsson, T. (2011). Effects of kinesio tape compared with nonelastic sports tape and the untaped ankle during a sudden inversion perturbation in male athletes. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 41(5), 328–335. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2011.3501

  3. Chown, G., Innamorato, J., McNerney, M., Petrilla, J., & Prozzillo, H. (2016). Perceived benefits of Kinesio Tape® compared to non-kinesiology tape and no tape in healthy collegiate athletes. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 4(4). https://doi.org/10.15453/2168-6408.1228

  4. Hughes DC, Ellefsen S, Baar K. Adaptations to Endurance and Strength Training. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018 Jun 1;8(6):a029769. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a029769. PMID: 28490537; PMCID: PMC5983157.

  5. Cannataro R, Cione E, Bonilla DA, Cerullo G, Angelini F, D'Antona G. Strength training in elderly: An useful tool against sarcopenia. Front Sports Act Living. 2022 Jul 18;4:950949. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2022.950949. PMID: 35924210; PMCID: PMC9339797.

  6. de Freitas FS, Brown LE, Gomes WA, Behm DG, Marchetti PH. No effect of kinesiology tape on passive tension, strength or quadriceps muscles activation of during maximal voluntraty isometric contractions in resistance trained me. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2018 Aug;13(4):661-667. PMID: 30140559; PMCID: PMC6088117.

  7. Slimani M, Tod D, Chaabene H, Miarka B, Chamari K. Effects of Mental Imagery on Muscular Strength in Healthy and Patient Participants: A Systematic Review. J Sports Sci Med. 2016 Aug 5;15(3):434-450. PMID: 27803622; PMCID: PMC4974856.

  8. Clark, B. D., Dacko, S. M., & Cope, T. C. (1993). Cutaneous stimulation fails to alter motor unit recruitment in the decerebrate cat. Journal of Neurophysiology, 70(4), 1433–1439. https://doi.org/10.1152/jn.1993.70.4.1433

  9. Dideriksen, J. L., Muceli, S., Dosen, S., Laine, C. M., & Farina, D. (2015). Physiological recruitment of motor units by high-frequency electrical stimulation of afferent pathways. Journal of Applied Physiology, 118(3), 365–376. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00327.2014

  10. Griffin L, Garland SJ, Ivanova T, Gossen ER. Muscle vibration sustains motor unit firing rate during submaximal isometric fatigue in humans. J Physiol. 2001 Sep 15;535(Pt 3):929-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7793.2001.00929.x. PMID: 11559785; PMCID: PMC2278830.

  11. Halseth T, McChesney JW, Debeliso M, Vaughn R, Lien J. The effects of kinesio™ taping on proprioception at the ankle. J Sports Sci Med. 2004 Mar 1;3(1):1-7. PMID: 24497814; PMCID: PMC3896108.

  12. Huang CY, Hsieh TH, Lu SC, Su FC. Effect of the Kinesio tape to muscle activity and vertical jump performance in healthy inactive people. Biomed Eng Online. 2011 Aug 11;10:70. doi: 10.1186/1475-925X-10-70. PMID: 21831321; PMCID: PMC3174125.

  13. Malgaonkar, P. P. ., .N , S. K. ., .K , V. B. ., & Rizvi , S. R. . (2014). Short term effect of mulligans mobilization versus kinesio taping on knee pain and disabiity for osteoarthritis of knee. International Journal of Physiotherapy, 1(4), 233–240. https://doi.org/10.15621/ijphy/2014/v1i4/54566

  14. Shakeri H, Keshavarz R, Arab AM, Ebrahimi I. Clinical effectiveness of kinesiological taping on pain and pain-free shoulder range of motion in patients with shoulder impingement syndrome: a randomized, double blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Dec;8(6):800-10. PMID: 24377066; PMCID: PMC3867073.

  15. Briem, K., Eythörsdöttir, H., Magnúsdóttir, R. G., Pálmarsson, R., RúnarsdÖttir, T., & Sveinsson, T. (2011a). Effects of kinesio tape compared with nonelastic sports tape and the untaped ankle during a sudden inversion perturbation in male athletes. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 41(5), 328–335. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2011.3501

  16. Choi IR, Lee JH. Effect of kinesiology tape application direction on quadriceps strength. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018 Jun;97(24):e11038. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000011038. PMID: 29901599; PMCID: PMC6023644.

  17. Vercelli S, Ferriero G, Bravini E, Sartorio F. How much is Kinesio taping a psychological crutch? Man Ther. 2013 Jun;18(3):e11. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2012.10.008. Epub 2012 Nov 4. PMID: 23131866.

  18. Labianca L, Andreozzi V, Princi G, Princi AA, Calderaro C, Guzzini M, Ferretti A. The effectiveness of Kinesio Taping in improving pain and edema during early rehabilitation after Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: A Prospective, Randomized, Control Study. Acta Biomed. 2022 Jan 19;92(6):e2021336. doi: 10.23750/abm.v92i6.10875. PMID: 35075087; PMCID: PMC8823551.

  19. Donec V, Kubilius R. The effectiveness of Kinesio Taping® for pain management in knee osteoarthritis: a randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trial. Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis. 2019 Aug 29;11:1759720X19869135. doi: 10.1177/1759720X19869135. PMID: 31497072; PMCID: PMC6716177.

  20. 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. doi: 10.3810/psm.2012.11.1986. PMID: 23306413.

  21. Lim, ECW, Tay MGX. Kinesio taping in musculoskeletal pain and disability that lasts for more than 4 weeks: is it time to peel off the tape and throw it out with the sweat? A systematic review with meta-analysis focused on pain and also methods of tape application. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2015;49:1558-1566.

  22. Craighead DH, Shank SW, Volz KM, Alexander LM. Kinesiology tape modestly increases skin blood flow regardless of tape application technique. J Perform Health Res. 2017;1:https://www.scilit.net/article/e1fb961c060ad0d85a412149b7b4488f. Epub 2017 May 17. PMID: 34527888; PMCID: PMC8439387.

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