As Physios, we often get asked “does KT tape work?”, and it’s a fair question.
Before you spend some serious coin on roll after roll of dynamic tape, let’s go through the story step-by-step.
Backing up a bit – firstly, what is “KT tape”?
KT tape is a brand of elastic tape, stretchy tapes designed to move with the joint and skin through sporting activities.
These tapes are relatively new on the sports injury scene.
Invented in the 1970s, they became popularised more recently by sports stars wearing the brightly coloured tapes on prime time TV.
But other than looking cool, does KT tape work and if so, how?
The proposed effect of KT tape
According to KT Tape‘s own marketing, it “is highly effective at providing pain relief, stability & support, & faster recovery for injured or sore muscles and joints”.
That’s a massive claim! Anything else it can do?
The website goes on to describe how it supports soft tissue, increases blood flow, prevents injury and holds the kneecap in place during running.
The guiding principle of the elastic tape, to take the load off muscles and absorb it in the stretchy material, seems logical enough.
But as with any bold claim, there’s always an enthusiastic flock of researchers keen to test the theory.
(They even tested whether the colour of the tape influenced performance!)
What’s the research consensus on “does KT tape work”?
There are plenty of papers on all types of kinesiology tape.
They investigate every aspect of the claims made about the tape. Here’s the low down.
Does KT tape work for improving muscle output?
Regardless of taping orientation, it doesn’t increase muscle strength, length or activation.
Does KT tape work to support joints (eg to recover from an ankle sprain)?
It’s an elastic tape so it’s ability to resist movement is limited.
Basically it stretches more than the ligaments it’s trying to protect, so the ligaments overloads before the tape.
Does KT tape work to relocate or move the position of the kneecap?
Ummm, how to put this politely…. it’s got no chance.
The skin over the kneecap isn’t attached to the kneecap in any way – it has to slide a long way over the kneecap to allow free movement when you bend your knee.
So pulling on the skin has no effect on the bone movement underneath.
Does KT tape work to speed up recovery?
Not with any direct input, but it might help a little in an indirect way.
Although the tape doesn’t affect the physiology of tissue repair, it helps to remind the injured athlete to limit their joint movement.
Essentially it’s a sticky note to the brain to go easy, and that might help to prevent accidental overload during recovery.
Does KT tape work to prevent ankle sprains?
It doesn’t directly prevent ankle sprains – it can’t stop the ankle from rolling as we mentioned above about resisting ligament movement.
But it might help someone who has previously sprained their ankle to be aware of and control the position of the ankle on landing.
Studies showed that the tape allowed a more consistent and accurate landing position in forward and sideways hopping.
Does KT tape work to reduce the pressure on a stretching muscle?
Another one in the fanciful claim category!
Dynamic or Kinesiology tape can’t absorb the loading on a stretching muscle – it’s just not strong enough.
Which is very lucky, because if it was, it’d probably tear your skin as the force normally absorbed by the muscle is transferred to the tape and skin.
But it might help with muscle control with previously injured muscles.
The pulling feeling of the tape can add to the brain’s input to facilitate better muscle control.
Should I use kinesiology tapes?
It’s not as clear cut as the research suggests.
There’s a number of individual factors that dictate its effectiveness.
If you’ve had previous injuries that affect your ability to perceive movement (including ligament and muscle tears), it can help improve your movement perception.
And that can help to control the limb and might prevent injury.
If you’re using KT tape for performance, there’s no evidence linking it to improved sporting performance.
It might look cool, but you don’t move any faster.
If you like the feel (or the look) of it, go for it.
There’s nothing to suggest that it’s detrimental in anyway, so no harm done if you want to use it.
If you prefer the feel of elastic tapes as an alternative to rigid strapping tape, it’s not a good idea.
Elastic tapes are unable to provide the same level of support and injury prevention as rigid tapes.
If you’re using elastic tape to reduce swelling, it’ll work a little.
It’s not designed for very firm pressure so you’ll get less pressure than an elastic bandage.
It’s also more expensive than the reusable bandage.
So overall it’s not a wise idea.