Kinesio Tex tape, a strong elasticated tape, was developed more than 30 years ago by a Japanese chiropractor, Dr. Kenzo Kase. He found that the application of the tape replicated some of the beneficial effects of manual therapy – such as massage – in reducing pain and soreness for injured patients.
First seen on Sumo wrestlers, the tape took off when rolls were donated to 58 countries at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Sportsmen and women from Lance Armstrong to Serena Williams have sported various types of elastic therapeutic tape. In Britain, 4,000 healthcare professionals have attended Kinesio taping training courses, and pre-cut strips are sold in Boots.
“It’s absolutely bloody brilliant,” says physiotherapist Paul Hobrough, who uses a variety of brands to help runners. Tape has been used to patch up injuries for years, but Hobrough finds Kinesio tape better than old-fashioned zinc, which prevents all movement. A common problem for runners is a mistracking kneecap; Kinesio tape can stretch and contract, inhibiting damaging movements but allowing the right kind, explains Hobrough. Runners can continue to train even when they have a problem. “Where we used to say, ‘You can’t run until I see you next week,’ we are now applying the tape and keeping people running between sessions.”
Hobrough is cautious about people attempting to apply the tape themselves and the perception that it is a panacea. “People have become so evangelical. I don’t believe this will repair your problems.” It is a rehab tool, not rehab, he says.
Speaking from Japan, Kase has a more expansive view of his tape’s benefits. Space, flow and cooling are, he explains, his basic concepts. He believes the source of many joint and muscle pains lies in the thin layer of skin between the epidermis and the dermis. Conventional therapies compress these areas. “I needed to create something to lift these layers.” The tape, he claims, opens the space between the epidermis and dermis, enabling a better flow of blood and lymphatic fluids. Through this flow, the body loses excessive heat that can damage it.
A randomised double-blind clinical trial in 2008 found Kinesio tape produced an immediate improvement in range of motion when treating shoulder pain, compared with a sham tape. A study of whiplash patients found Kinesio tape provided pain relief and an improved range of motion, which continued a day later.