By now I’m sure most of you have you have seen either training partners or people at races who are wearing brightly colored tape on their arms or legs. This is called kinesiology tape and it is a specially made elastic tape that can be applied to your muscles or joints to decrease pain and swelling, correct faulty motion, and assist weak or injured muscles. It can also be used as a proprioceptive tool for muscle re-education for sport specific movements such as running, cycling, and swimming. In short, these $20 rolls of tape are a must have addition to your training bag and can be used in several different ways throughout the healing cycle.
As we move through the 17 body regions on the A-T-A site we’re going to focus on each muscle group/joint and show you how to use the tape in four distinct ways:
1) For symptom control to decrease pain and swelling.
2) To restore normal muscle position and joint alignment (blocking faulty motion as needed).
3) To assist weak and injured muscles to promote recovery.
4) As a proprioceptive tool to re-educate muscles to improve form and athletic performance through sport specific movement patterns.
What you will need to get started:
Currently there are several varieties of tape out on the market and each runs for about $20 a roll. The major brands include Kinesio Tex, KT Tape, Rock Tape and Spidertech. Of the four, Rock Tape is my favorite by a mile. Why? It has the best adhesive. I can run, bike, and swim and it will stay on for 3-5 days no problem. It is a solid roll of continuous tape unlike most of the KT tape rolls which primarily come in pre-cut 6″ strips that split in two (into a “Y” shape). This is important to me. I want to be able to cut the tape to any length or into as many strips as I need for the application I am going to use instead of needing a variety of rolls with me. You also run into this problem with Spidertech which comes in pre-cut and injury specific strips. This is helpful if you only use the tape for one thing, otherwise you’re out of luck. In my experience, the kinesiotex just doesn’t stick well and requires the use of a skin adhesive like Tuft Skin.
2) Sharp Scissors
This means the sharpest pair in the house and hide it from the kids so it doesn’t go missing. The one constant I’ve found in working with this kind of tape is that if cut quickly or have dull scissors you will fray the edges when you cut the tape. Frayed edges will catch and start to roll up on the rest of the tape application. This is a problem when you’re heading out the door for a 5 hour bike ride or 20 mile run. Cut carefully and use good scissors! It will save you lots of wasted tape.
3) Adhesive spray
This is good to have if you’re a heavy sweater or have oily skin. It’s cheap ($10/can) and a can will last forever. My favorite is Tuf-Skin (pictured above). All you need to do is spray the skin first, let it dry and then apply the tape over it.
Skin Prep + Removal:
1) Clean skin completely before trying to apply tape. This means no oils, lotions, or moisture. If the skin is damp on any level, the tape will not stick.
2) Shave the area. This means you too, guys. Sometimes a trim is all it will take, but if you have long hairs or lots of them, save yourself the trouble and just shave. It will be easier in the long run and the tape will definitely stick then.
3) The tape is latex free and heat activated. Once the tape is applied you will have to rub it to warm the tape and activate the adhesive.
4) The tape should last 3-5 days. Remove earlier with skin irritation or discomfort. When peeling the tape off, be careful. Do not rip it off quick like a band-aid. This will irritate the skin and in some cases can tear it. Remove the tape slowly while it is wet for best results. Start with one end and hold the skin below with your other hand.
The taping techniques we will be using:
The most important thing to remember about kinesiology tape is that it is specifically made to pull on itself. That is what the weird spirals and shapes are when you look at the back of the tape. This means that most of the time, the tape is applied WITHOUT tension on it. I say most of the time because there are certain applications that will require you to stretch the tape out for the desired effect, but for the most part the area is put on stretch and then tape is applied. This will make more sense as we move through the different techniques and body parts. In this introduction post, I just want to give you an idea of what the various techniques look like and introduce them.
#1 Edema (swelling) control
Think of these strips as little hands that lift the skin up to create space underneath. The goal with this application is to open up the underlying lymphatic and capillary channels so that the fluid can drain from the area and swelling can be reduced. These strips involve cutting the tape into smaller strips and then leaving the end as an “anchor”.
#2 Pain control
This pattern is similar to the one above, except instead of using smaller cut strips, multiple pieces of tape are used and a stretch is applied over the middle. Again, this allows the tape to pull on itself, creating space underneath. In the case of pain from acute muscle strain or tear, this application will provide space to decrease pressure around the injury and subsequently pain.
#3 Muscle facilitation
This type of tape application is applied to help increase the amount of contraction in a muscle. The key to this application is to use the anatomy. You want the tape to move from muscle origin to insertion so that when the tape pulls on itself, it results in a concentric pull (concentric = shortening of the muscle). This is ideal for helping weak or recovering muscles following injury.
#4 Muscle inhibition
(no picture shown; these applications will look similar to the muscle facilitation ones above but they differ in the direction the tape is applied. This will make more sense as we move through the different body regions and specific tape applications)
This type of tape application is applied to help decrease a muscle contraction. The key to this application is to use the anatomy. You want the tape to move from the muscle insertion to origin so that when the tape pull on itself, it results in an eccentric pull (eccentric = lengthening of the muscle). This is ideal for trying to diminish the contraction to allow for rest and recovery in an injured muscle/tendon or in the case of a muscle spasm.
#5 Joint correction
When using kinesiology tape to improve joint alignment, the goal is to balance the different structures pulling on the joint. This may require facilitating one muscle and inhibiting another. It may also require a correction to the joint itself to hold it in place for proper alignment. This will vary by joint and the underlying pathology.
#6 Muscle re-education + Sport Specific Training
For these applications we will be following the Power Taping Technique developed by Dr. Steven Capobianco and Greg van den Dries at Rock Tape. Unlike the more traditional taping protocols, this is the first application to step back and look at the body as a moving chain of muscles versus muscles working in isolation. This is powerful stuff for athletes! To train muscles to function properly you must do so working with the surrounding muscles. As we move through the Running Form Series in our newsletter we’ll begin to go through this type of tape application, how to apply it, and more specifically, how to use it to improve your run stride from a total body perspective.
1) Capobianco, Dr. Steven and van den Dries, Greg. (2009). Power Taping, 2nd Edition, Rock Tape Inc, Los Gatos, CA.
2) Hammer, Warren. (2007). Functional Soft-Tissue Examination and Treatment by Manual Methods, 3rd edition. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Inc, Sudbury, MA.
3) Kase, Kenzo, Wallis, Jim, and Kase, Tsuyoshi. (2003). Clinical Therapeutic Applications of the Kinesio Taping Method.
4) Muscolino, Joseph. (2009). The Muscle and Bone Palpation Manual. Mosby, Inc, St. Louis, MO.