Kinesio Tape: The Evidence

Orthopedic taping is a real thing, but it certainly doesn’t look anything like this.

This evening I was browsing through some of the many articles online about Kinesio Tape, the alternative medicine sports product that has seen so much exposure in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games due, according to the articles, to the company having given a lot of it to each team. However that doesn’t explain why they’d actually use it — no athlete wants to wrap up in elastic tape that doesn’t do anything without good reason.

Those good reasons include pain management, injury treatment, injury prevention, enhanced performance, increased range of motion, and just about anything else an athlete might want. It sounds like a miracle — one simple product that does everything you can imagine. In short, a textbook snake oil product.

Kinesio Tape comes, not surprisingly, from the goofy worlds of chiropractic and acupuncture, where magical energy fields are said to be responsible for so many human body functions. Those are industries that usually claim immunity from scientific scrutiny, as they are based on non-scientific hypotheticals. But this 2008 blog from the NY Times — posted during the Beijing Olympics — linked to an actual published study. I had to read it.

The study took 30 healthy subjects and found that after applying Kinesio Tape to their abdomens, they had an increased range of motion. Sounds impressive, until you realize that this simple test is part of “applied kinesiology”, the century-old stage magician’s trick used to fool people into thinking they have more or less strength or flexibility. You’ve seen it more recently in the Power Balance, etc., sales demonstrations. This particular test is based on the simple fact that when you stretch once, you can almost always stretch further the second time. From reading the study abstract, it sounds like this is exactly what they did. They had the subjects twist as far as possible, then they applied the flexible elastic tape, then had the subjects try to twist even farther. Not surprisingly, they did. Anyone familiar with the applied kinesiology trick knows that holding a rubber band, making a face, wearing a hat, or just about anything else will have the exact same effect as did the Kinesio Tape. It’s a simple fact of human flexibility that you can stretch further the second time.

Perhaps the Kinesio Tape company provided some such “data” to the Olympic athletes along with the rolls of tape. I don’t know, but having a number of friends in the volleyball teams, I’ll ask around. (Those same friends passed along the rumor that beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh was paid $100,000 to wear the Kinesio Tape so visibly in 2008, but I can’t vouch for that.) I do know that I have not yet seen a single athlete, pro beach volleyball players included, wear Kinesio Tape outside of the Olympics (or other high-profile professional events), and that includes Kerri Walsh. It would not surprise me to learn that sponsorship dollars are entirely responsible for the popularity of Kinesio Tape during televised events, but if misleading studies like the one cited above are being passed around, who knows what’s actually in the athletes’ heads.

For further info on Kinesio Tape, please read Dr. Steven Novella’s excellent (and brief) takedown.

About Brian Dunning

Science writer Brian Dunning is the host and producer of Skeptoid.
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36 Responses to Kinesio Tape: The Evidence

  1. Kenny says:

    So, I am not a fan or proponent of kinesio tape – I have actually only heard of it through your tweets – and it certainly sounds fishy, but I can’t say that your post is any better.

    You’re going to “ask around” to find out details for a post that you already posted? And you have an unsubstantiated rumor that Kerri Walsh was paid $100,000? Please, don’t bother with actual data in a post about product that lacks data. And if these test are so simple, why not get some tape and prove that it doesn’t help? Should be easy.

    In the end, you may be – probably are – right about the tape, but this post doesn’t seem to have much in the way of proof. Sounds like you just have a beef with the company.

    • Kenny, whether she had a sponsorship deal or not is irrelevant to the question of its efficacy. Perhaps I shouldn’t have included it in the post.

      But you are exactly right, I do have a beef with this company or any other that sells a worthless product with implausible pseudoscientific claims.

  2. Mud says:

    Brian, think of the advantages, taped up hostages can now outrun their captors!

  3. Mike says:

    There have been a number of high-profile football (Rugby League) players wearing kinesio tape in Australia for several years now. And Cadel Evans, the winner of last year’s Tour de France, wore it for at least one day in the 2010 event (see link on my name above).

    • mud says:

      Cadel Evans also takes money from supplements companies. It only goes to show that if something is as effective as alternative medicine (???) there will be a sportsman on the take.

      I do remember at the start of this league season one of the game callers commenting along the lines “now that looks stupid, how is that going to assist the player”…

      Its only three yyears since the NSW state of origin team were sponsored by powerband.. Four years since Manly were injecting sheep extract into players ankles..

      Ifthe juju is going to appear its going to be on a league player…not Ren Hoek,.

  4. Sheldon W. Helms says:

    I can think of a good use for this tape. Put it over Kenny’s mouth…or at least bind up his hands so he can’t type out idiotic, smarmy comments anymore. : P

    • What was idiotic or smarmy about Kenny’s comment? Mr. Dunning conceded Kenny’s point that the existence of a sponsorship agreement was irrelevant. So is he conceding an idiotic point? Seems to me that your comment more aptly fits that descrip…

  5. Ben says:

    I’m an Australian Trained Physio, albeit not practicing anymore. I can say that there are numerous taping methods and practices that do have proven rehab benefits. This company and their claims I have no idea of and have never heard of them. What I can say is no tape will make any person magically more flexible. Infact physios use taping for the exact opposite. Taping is typically used as a mechanism to create additional awareness of a muscle group by using the skin as an additional feedback loop to make the patient more aware of their posture or position of a joint. This is particularly useful with chronic disuse atrophy. I’ve never heard of taping being used for increasing flexibility and can’t understand any rational behind it.

    • I have had to tape injuries many times in order to play. My experience is exactly as you describe. The tape provides extra support to prevent a re-injury.

    • Gymgoki says:

      Thanks Ben. 
      I messed up my knee a few years back.  I scoffed at the idea that wearing an elastic “brace” would do anything until my orthopedic surgeon explained that whereas it truly doesn’t give you support, it is a proprioceptive aid.  You have already explained how that works. THAT I can buy.

  6. Holland says:

    Mario Balotelli wore it often during this summer’s Euro 2012 soccer tournament. If you google ‘Mario Balotelli tape’, there are tons of results on the three stripes of his lower back.

  7. Vin says:

    I’d imagine that it would work the EXACT opposite, perhaps saving the athlete a tiny amount of energy helping muscles and tendons snap back? (this reminds me of the ‘Play-Doh’ story…..started out as Wallpaper Cleaner…add a few pigments and sell it for ten times as much as a COMPLETELY different product, to a TOTALLY different demographic…..AND still sell it as wallpaper-cleaner as well……..This Product looks as if it went down a similar path……a weird mix of Electrical and Plumbers Tape…..but the market for those is stitched shut pretty tightly, Tradesmen DON’T like changing brands……so, I imagine, for this particular company some smart woo-loving gym-junkie in the marketing dept. has seriously saved the day)

  8. Max Miller says:

    There are a couple things not up to Skeptoid standards in this blog post. One, referencing a rumor you can’t cite is not evidence-based work, and two, just because you have not seen this tape outside of the Olympics doesn’t mean it’s not prevalent in the sports world.

    The tape has been around for many years at running and triathlon events. It’s often seen next to A.R.T. practitioners (Active Release Therapy) and other various massage and recovery techniques. Saying “I do know that I have not yet seen a single athlete, pro beach volleyball players included, wear Kinesio Tape outside of the Olympics (or other high-profile professional events)” is similar to the Bill O’Reilly claim that he does not know how tides work, therefore it must be god. Just because you, Brian, have not seen it, doesn’t mean it’s not prevalent elsewhere. (Doesn’t make it safe and effective treatment, either, just pointing out your error in judgment.)

    I’m not defending the tape. It’s another product that makes big claims that have yet to be proven in good controlled blinded studies. They don’t have to, since the nature of marketing discourages them from risking their reputation by actually testing their product.

    If we are truly going to carry the flag of critical thinking, then we must hold ourselves to the same standards we expect the woo practitioners to obey. That means not using rumor or even the hint of rumor taint our judgment, and not using personal anecdotal experience to color our preliminary opinions.

    PowerBands were not taken down with rumor and aspersions. It was done by pointing out the fraud, studying how the marketing techniques obfuscated the lack of real data, and then systematically going after the makers on their specific claims which were fraud.

    Skeptics can be consumer advocates and watchdogs. Paying an athlete for using a product visibly isn’t against the rules. Making wild claims to efficacy without proof crosses a line.

    I appreciate that you recognize you shouldn’t have used rumor in the post. It taints an otherwise interesting observational piece that is the starting point for discussion.

  9. Alexandra says:

    Hi Brian, love the show by the way. I have not read any hype about this because I know automatically that alt med claims are usually outlandish. However, my physical trainer does use them and I have also used them (before they were well known). He never made any claims about them but simply said it would help get some blood flow to the area I was having difficulty with and it did help. I have arthritis in my neck and when it hurts I tend to tense up. The kinesiology tape (much simpler looking then the one pictured) simply lifted my skin to increase blood flow and was an external reminder for me to relax and avoid tensing up. I found it very helpful for that. The idea of it being touted as anything more is, well, ridiculous and fraudulent in my opinion.

    Being a victim of alt med from my younger days I am probably over the top skeptical about anything that hasn’t been proven. I tried the tape as an experiment to help with pain figuring it was a waste of time. Fortunately I was wrong but then my trainer didn’t make wild claims. It gave me relief long enough for me to practice relaxing those muscles and I am now pain free. The tape did not make me pain free, that would be crazy, but it was a tool for me to develop better relaxation methods for those muscles.

    Thanks again for your podcast.

  10. Hi, Brian. Long time listener, first time commenter. I’m a certified athletic trainer and have seen this tape for years. It started to become prevalent up to a decade ago, finally crossing the pond from Japan. I’ve had the unfortunate opportunities to participate in Kinesiotaping workshops over the last several years, luckily at no expense to me. I agree with Alexandra above that it is useful for increasing cutaneous blood flow, as well as improving lymphatic drainage. However, that is ALL the tape can do. I’ve heard all the theory behind it many times, and still do not believe how “Doctor” Kenzo Kase can even believe his own BS. K-tape cannot provide enough tactile feedback to overpower a large muscle group, such as Kerry Walsh’s shoulder. Tape is only effective at prophylaxis.

    • mud says:

      That is all the tape can do????? Eric, these are spectacular claims that should have been published!

      Thankfully most people look things up elsewhere.

      I expect a few tattoos have gone missing…right…

  11. Christie says:

    Dear Brian,

    The use of kinesiotape (KT) extends not just to chiropractic and other alternative health practitioners, but is (unfortunately) widely used within the field of physical therapy. However, it is met with great controversy. Although widely used, to this date there are very few randomized controlled trials, even fewer that support its use, and even fewer than that which are actually GOOD clinical studies (if at all). Those that support its use are often methodologically or statistically flawed. Let’s examine a few studies:

    Yoshida, A. & Kahanov C. The Effect of Kinesio Taping on Lower Trunk Range of Motions. Research in Sports Medicine. 19 Jun 2007.

    This is the study you mentioned in your blog. One counterpoint I would like to make is that you mentioned that the effects of stretching the first time may have led to the improved range of motion (ROM). However, in the study, they accounted for this by having one group of 15 subjects perform the test maneuvers before application of the tape and the other group performed the maneuvers afterwards (crossover design). This, obviously, cannot be a reason to explain the differences between the ROM differences noted with application of the KT. Rather, the issues to take with this study are in methodological and analysis of the results.
    The authors concluded that the ROM was significantly different not by comparing each individual range of motion measurements, but the total of ALL range of motion measurements. A change of 17cm sounds like a very significant difference and statistically measures out to be so, but consider the fact that this change of 17cm is spread out amongst 30 individuals. Although I am not a statistician, my clinical level of statistical knowledge would tell me that this statistic is not precise enough to really evaluate if there truly is a significant difference between the two conditions. For instance, all it would take is a few outliers who perhaps improved their ROM by, say, 5 cm and perhaps a few others by 1 or 2. From a clinical standpoint, there is very little that is clinically relevant about someone reaching a few centimeters further.

    Finally, lets also consider that the study used healthy subjects, was a small study (N=30), was unblinded and without a placebo or control group. There is enough here to state that this study has very little clinical value.

    So let’s consider another clinical study that WAS randomized and double blinded:
    Thelan, M. et al. The Clinical Efficacy of Kinesio Tape for Shoulder Pain: A randomized, double blind, clinical trial. JOSPT. July 2008.

    In this study, they actually used patients with clinical symptoms. The initial results demonstrated an immediate improvement in the treatment group in terms of ROM into abduction (raising arm out to the side). This statistically meaningful result of 19 degrees of difference sounds impressive and is likely clinically relevant; however, when one examines the standard deviation and confidence interval (CI) (between 1.7 and 36.5 degrees) of these changes, we see that the CI is so wide that is shows that some patients had a very significant change while many had very little at all. The CI is wider than the alleged change in ROM, itself. Furthermore, the effects were short lived and did not result in any lasting improvements, nor did it result in any FUNCTIONAL changes such as reduction of disability….the main reason people go to physical therapy.

    Some studies have noted changes in physiological properties such as:

    Stupik A. et al. Effect of Kinesio Taping on Bioelectrical Activity of Vastual Medialis Muscle. Orthopedica Tramatologia Rehabilitacja. 2007.

    This small study demonstrates that application of KT resulted in improved EMG activity of the muscle for up to 48 hours after application and removal of the KT. However, other studies refute such finding when applied to other areas.

    Briem K. Effects of Kinesio Tape compared with non-elastic sports tape and the untapped ankle during sudden inversion pertebation in male athletes. JOSPT. Aug 2011

    This study demonstrated that elastic taping has no effect on muscle activity during pertebation training.
    Even as such, however, this small physiological findings are all too often said to “support” the use of KT. However, whether these physiological findings turn into relevant, CLINICAL level findings is another story. Without being able to demonstrate benefit in measures of function, pain or performance, even these small, transient physiological changes are irrelevant.

    I could go on about the number of studies which outright discredit the effects of KT, but it goes beyond the point of my post. An easy googlescholar.com search will reveal a number of studies that demonstrate lack of clinical significance with use of KT. My main point of this post is that even in the face of “evidence” that such evidence needs to be carefully critiqued…to a point that often extends beyond the scope of a consumers knowledge.

    As a physical therapist, it is always a challenge to keep up with current relevant research, let alone be able to decipher between a high quality study and one that leaves the impression of a “good study” but really isn’t. At this time, my feeling is that KT has no real CLINICAL value other than to make a patient more aware of a body part (ie, I’ll use it to give patients feedback on their posture). I have yet to find a study that demonstrates any LASTING and clinically MEANINGFUL impact on range of motion, pain, function or disability.

    It’s an even greater challenge to de-program patients coming into the clinic who are searching for the “quick fix” or the “miracle” that will help them recover. Heavy marketing from continuing education courses for therapists to learn the “hottest” techniques further digs us into a hole of poor practice patterns. In the end, Brian, it takes a very critical and skeptical eye to weed through the “fads” which come and go in the clinic and which ones have any real value. Unfortunately, it often dilutes the profession and leads to a wide variation in practice patterns. Hopefully, patients have the sense to question their therapist with the techniques they present as part of a treatment plan. Patients should always remain skeptical.

    Thanks for a wonderful blog post! I am a fan!

    Christie Downing, PT, DPT, OCS, Dip.MDT

  12. Peter says:

    Good article came out on BBC after the Euro 2012, where few footballers were seen wearing it.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18672458

    A quote from the Dr Kase: “We need more evidence. We do not have research reports. Part of the reason people are using Kinesio tape is to find the science.”

    Basically what he says is that athletes using the tape is somehow collecting the evidence. This is a huge ‘red flag’ as this is a very backward way of doing science.

    I was absolutely amazed how many athletes worn this stuff to, as it seems, prevent worsening existing injuries. I can’t believe that so many highly qualified medical staff have allowed (hopefully not endorsed) their athletes to wear this sort of stuff. This may have negative effects as if they actually think that this prevents them from getting an injury, they may push themselves a bit too much and actually get injured.

  13. Russ says:

    Never seen the tape outside of the Olympics? Really?
    You must not get out much! Go to ANY Half-Marathon, Marathon, Ultra-Marathon and trail race and you’ll be changing that settiment quick like.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Also, don’t know where you all are pulling your claims from and those linked ‘studies’ are done by others, so Saying the company or Dr. Kase is making certain claims is rediculous and just your guys own assumptions and opinions.

    See the actual use and claims straight from the source.
    NOTHING said here is untrue about the benefits.

    http://www.kinesiotaping.com/global/association/about/kinesio-taping-method.html

  15. LMA says:

    What’s so sad with all of this is that there IS a legitimate use for kinesio tape — way back in 2001 when it first arrived from Japan in boring beige color, it was used by PTs to help reduce scarring. The idea as explained to me then was that is lifted up the skin slightly and let it shift around better, stimulating blood flow, which in turn resulted in less obvious surgical scars. At the time I had undergone a series of nerve and tendon release surgeries and can report that the scars from operations done before KT was on the market definitely healed in a lumpier, more visible fashion than the ones that were treated with KT. All the surgeries and PT were done by the same doctor and therapist — the only difference was the KT.

    • Muddie says:

      wasn’t that silicone tape LMA… I have not seen the stuff being disabused on sports folk and keen children until the last few years. I have seen the silicone tape handed out to reduce scarring..I dont know if that worked either.

      Sports folk will do anything that gives them a positive outlook going into the game..I would have preferred education and thorough preparation..Others use steroids.

      PS the difference between subsequent surgeries is…they are subsequent surgeries..

  16. Phil says:

    There doesn’t seem to be any mechanism for its effectiveness does there? It seems to not work like conventional taping by limiting movement to prevent sprains or bruising. The purported mechanism sounds fishy in the extreme. I have a rather bad case of plantar fasciitis and I have to use a ton of tape on my heel and sole. Tried some new fangled tape (looked like Kt) and it didn’t give me enough support I had to go back to old fashioned athletic tape. Yeah I know anectodal evidence, personal experience is not data etc. just wanted to share.

  17. EAPellow says:

    As this post only attempts to discredit KT Tape on the basis of increased range of motion, I think you should consider revisiting the matter in its entirety. Better yet, since you claim you have to tape old injuries before playing sports, I think you should, at the very least submit yourself to a personal test: Tape the injury with nonelastic sports tape in an approved taping method, and later tape the injury with KT Tape and one of their corresponding approved taping methods.

    I recently tried some of this tape on my girlfriend’s rotator cuff injury, as well as mine which is not yet an established injury. To be honest, I only tried it out because neither of us were going to be seeing each other for a few days but had do continue doing heavy lifting at work, and KT’s approved taping methods for a rotator cuff can just barely be done by yourself, while taping with sports tape is impossible without another person. Our reaction? …Meh. It definitely was better than nothing, and it helped me more than it helped her, my injury being much less substantial. She would have been better off with an armor-like layering of sports tape, in my opinion.

    What I take from that is this product might, generally speaking, work less well on more severe injuries compared to conventional sports tape. The fact that it doesn’t restrict ROM the same way that sports tape does is probably the main reason, but I contest that it means it shouldn’t be meant to treat injuries the same way either. You should also keep that in mind if you test this yourself, whether you need that decreased ROM or just a little support. It’s like choosing a soft brace over a hard brace. If your injury is light, you’ll likely choose the soft brace as you don’t need ROM restricted much. As such, the efficacy of this product should be weighed against other light-moderate support products, like compression sleeves for one.

    I DO still have my doubts about this product, and, a proper non-elastic taping job on certain parts of the body being incredibly difficult to do properly, I can see how this might be better than nothing if you’re in a hurry. I have a number of sore joints of varying severity, and this stuff has helped some of them to different extents. What I would really like to see are the PT’s that commented earlier to try novel ways of using this elastic tape with conventional tape, modifying standard taping methods by incorporating both – that, I think, is the only place this product would ever really be able to shine.

    All that said, I’m keeping a few cut strips as emergency sutures and splint holders in my camping first aid kit. Elastic and adhesives are usually always best in emergencies :)

  18. Dr Syd from OZ says:

    Aah… the personal test! I love itm Its the famous motivational dished uo for every crack pot idea in the world of devious and clever marketting.

    There is no science in kinesio tape. Just like acupuncture, if it had any science that profound…that science would be used to create even greater spinoffs..

    Just like real science.

    Kinesiotape has a prediction…some sucker will buy it thinking (erroneosly) that itwill impart some advantage.

    The great etheric test!

    Kids, today we will investigate something I just made up..

  19. Kinesiotape is very popular in Denmark among fysiotherapists and athletes. I must admit that there is a lot of people claiming that kinesiotape can cure headache ect. which doesn’t really make any sense. It is what it is – and it works perfect for pain relief from sports injuries…

  20. Jason Jay says:

    I had a nasty case of Plantar Fasciitis starting around April and lasting until this January. My major activity that I participate in is distance running.

    My pain got so bad that I could barely walk. This was not limited to just the mornings either. It was a 24 hours a day thing. I had some inserts from the podiatrist, but they were not getting the job done. So next up was the Strassburg sock. This provided a bit of relief, but not much. So, next up was KT tape. It actually did help me out. I survived XC season as a coach. I ran with my kids probably 2-3 times a week and I think the KT tape assisted me in doing that.

    KT tape didn’t “heal me, but I believe it helped with the pain management of the injury. Now, what I didn’t try was just normal athletic tape. It could be that the cheap stuff, taped on in the same method, would had the same effect as well. The technique that their website demonstrated helped keep my arch a bit higher with my toes flexed backwards a bit (the same idea behind the Strassburg sock).

    Ultimately I took another 6 weeks off and I was STILL having issues. Actually it was an expensive visit to The Good Feet Store that provided me with the relief that I was seeking. It took about 3 weeks but I’ve started running again. I have to where the supports all the time, but just being able to run again is worth the inconvenience and the expense of about $600. From not walking or standing to running in 3 weeks. They were worth the money.

    Again, I think the KT tape helped, but definitely did not heal the injury.

  21. Chiropractic treatments usually involve adjusting the joints and bones in your spine using twisting, pulling, or pushing movements. Some chiropractors use heat, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound to help relax your muscles before doing a spinal adjustment.

  22. outdoormom says:

    I have tried surgery, acupuncture and everything in between for carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis, and knee pain. For 17 years, I’ve been in constant pain. Kinesio taping is the only thing that brings relief and I don’t get paid to wear it! No doubt the companies are using good marketing techniques to sell their tape, though. ;)

  23. Kinesiotape says:

    The best treatment is rest plus anti-inflammatories. In Australia, you can get anti-inflammatory gel. I used Difflam 5% (on prescription) and it was wonderful and worked in a few days. OTC I can buy 3% but it takes about a week to give results (NOTE: Difflam cream, as opposed to gel, didn’t work at all). You can also take Omega 3 (fish oil) which is a natural anti-inflammatory without the side-effect of stomach problems (common with a lot of oral prescription medications).

  24. Anonymous says:

    Noticed the picture with the neck application, I am currently going thru PT for 4 bulging cervical discs and foraminal stenosis. That same application was used to reduce the edema on the back of my spine, there was a significant decrease in the “hump” in the back of my neck, even my skeptical husband could tell there was a difference. My therapist has a masters in PT I am confident it’s not a “snake oil” treatment.

  25. ed says:

    i just used it on my upper back, lower back, and left knee simultaneously, and pain has reduced greatly when walking

  26. Craig says:

    I think the point of comparison should be how KT compares with ordinary tape that has been used for decades. As a physio claims above the taping method is common and has known affects and benefits for various injuries. I have had injuries taped (knee and foot) which have provided pain relief and support, not sure why KT would need to make any claims beyond that of existing products. I notice that KT appears to be of a high quality and has a great method of adhesion, plus strong water proofing etc. A cool looking and great quality product that will deliver on what lesser products have always provided (and not likely anything more), sounds good to me, my only reluctance to purchase is that I don’t really want to be paying money to a bunch of lying chiros :/

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