It may seem pretty straightforward, but really, how does kinesiology taping work? Magic? Placebo? Does anyone really know?

This trend has been growing within the worlds of sports rehab and chiropractic for nearly a decade. Lately, it’s attracted even more attention thanks to being featured on pro athletes from many different sports.

Fortunately, there’s real evidence to suggest kinesiology tape can have beneficial effects in both athletes and regular people.

Read on to learn what’s fact and what’s myth about kinesiotaping, the scientific explanation for why it works, and how you can use it to prevent and heal injuries.

What is Kinesiology Taping?

Kinesiology taping, or kinesiotaping for short, is the practice of using an elastic cotton strip with a skin-friendly acrylic adhesive to bind joints and muscles. People use kinesiology tape to treat pain and dysfunction from athletic injuries, as well as a number of other physical problems that are unrelated to sports.

Other names for kinesiology tape include Kinesio tape, k-tape, KT, KT tape, and elastic therapeutic tape. But don’t confuse it with “athletic taping,” which includes run-of-the-mill Ace bandages. The purpose of athletic taping is to hold bones and injured joints in place, which is not quite the same as kinesiology taping.

Modern kinesiology taping dates back to the 1970s, when a Japanese-American chiropractor by the name of Kenzo Kase founded the brand “Kinesio” and trademarked the adhesive tape. Since then, numerous competitors have emerged.

However, the practice didn’t really take off until the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Pro volleyball players from the United States adorned themselves in kinesiotape and went on to dominate in multiple matches.

Since then, it’s much more common to see pro athletes wearing it, and the trend has spread among amateur athletes as well.

How Does Kinesiology Taping Work?

Kinesiology tape has two qualities that make it a good choice for treating injuries and muscular issues:

  • It features a skin-friendly adhesive
  • It can stretch greater than its starting length, then rebound back, similar to how skin works

Depending on the application, practitioners may apply the tape a number of different ways. For example, manually stretching the skin and applying unstretched kinesiotape can help lift the skin and speed healing. Conversely, applying stretched tape to skin may increase mobility.

For best results, apply the tape at least an hour before physical activities that involve sweating. When applied properly, it can last for three to five days, even after swimming or showering.

If you’ve never tried kinesiology taping before, consult a professional before attempting to do it on your own.

#1: Kinesiology Taping Protects Muscles

When you see pro athletes who use kinesiotape, some of them are injured. But in reality, the majority are using it to protect healthy muscles.

Research shows that kinesiology taping can help activate muscle receptors in your skin, resulting in a harder muscular contraction[1].

So for example, a volleyball player who uses her anterior deltoids a lot may place kinesiotape on the back of her shoulder joint to activate her deep rotator cuff muscles (infraspinatus and supraspinatus), thus preventing overuse injuries and protecting her shoulder joint.

#2: Kinesiology Taping Reduces Chronic Pain

Currently, the evidence suggests that kinesiology taping is effective at reducing chronic pain lasting for more than four weeks[2].

Compared to “minimal intervention”–in other words things like rest, ice, elevation, and NSAIDs–kinesiology taping is better at reducing chronic pain.

A review of seventeen studies did not find that kinesiotaping improved function in people suffering from chronic pain. However, it is safer, more cost-effective, and easier than invasive interventions[3].

#3: Kinesiology Taping Promotes Lymphatic Drainage and Reduces Swelling

If you’ve got an acute rather than a chronic injury, kinesiology taping can be useful for more than simply treating your pain.

In people who have experienced a sports injury, had a surgical procedure, or endured trauma to a joint or limb, this treatment can promote drainage through lymph channels and reduce swelling[4].

As a result, it can help you heal faster and restore mobility and strength in the affected areas.

#4: Kinesiology Taping Retrains Muscles and Balance

What if you’re not an athlete, don’t have chronic pain, and aren’t injured? Can kinesiology taping still benefit you?

The answer is yes. When paired with exercise, kinesiotaping can improve balance, enhance muscle contraction, and decrease the loss of function that often accompanies aging[5].

It’s no secret that going to the gym can help you age more gracefully, but research suggests you’ll get even more bang for your buck if you add kinesiology taping to your regimen!

Who Should Try Kinesiology Taping?

Kinesiology taping is worth a try for athletes, people with chronic pain, chronic injuries or muscle imbalances, and senior citizens who have issues with muscle strength or balance.

But don’t just buy kinesiology tape and do it yourself at home. Instead, visit a qualified chiropractor, coach, personal trainer, or sports medicine doc who can teach you the best way to apply the tape for your situation.

Unfortunately, it’s not suitable for people with tumors, infection, open wounds, or deep vein thrombosis.

Also, talk to your doctor before trying kinesiology taping, especially if you have type 2 diabetes, a bone fracture, or congestive heart failure.

Conclusion

Kinesiology taping may look like nothing but a fad, but it’s supported by solid scientific evidence.

If you want to enhance your athletic ability, protect your muscles from injury, address chronic pain, heal an injury, or improve the benefits of exercise as you age, kinesiology taping is worth exploring.

Make sure you buy a high-quality product (no Ace bandages or duct tape!), educate yourself on its proper use, and always have a clear goal in mind when using kinesiotape.