By Tom Fontana, MSPT
If you’ve watched any of the last couple summer Olympics, especially beach volleyball, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the somewhat spider-y looking strips of tape on many (most!) athletes and probably thought, “What’s up with that?”
There are many uses for this tape, which is generically referred to as kinesiology tape due to the elastic nature that allows it to MOVE WITH the athlete in contrast to conventional athletic tape that has traditionally been used to RESTRICT motion or “brace” a joint. These uses can help a world-class athlete achieve optimum results but is often used in physical therapy to assist the average person recover from injury or improve performance. The tape’s benefits largely depend on the amount of stretch placed on the tape and may provide multiple benefits simultaneously.
Because of the tape’s elastic nature, there is a certain “springiness” to it even without additional stretch. By simply applying tape to the skin, the tape wants to shorten and, as a result, lifts the skin. This decompresses the tissues beneath it resulting in improved lymphatic and blood flow resulting in decreased inflammation, which is useful in acute sprains/strains or post-surgically. If there is nerve compression in an area, tape applied over the course of the nerve decompresses the myofascial (soft tissue) tunnels through which it travels, decreasing irritation and allowing improved nerve function.
For some applications, additional stretch is added—usually up to 50%. One can achieve some level of pain relief through this method, thought to occur by stimulating the “feel good” nerve endings in the area. This level of stretch is also used post-surgically to enhance scar mobility by applying strips in opposite directions to achieve a micro-shearing or massage effect through the various tissue layers to better align the fibers.
Lastly, this level of stretch can be used for postural support. Though commonly used for low back muscles, or muscles of the shoulder girdle or shoulder, it can be used anywhere. With fatigue or after an injury, the nervous system’s ability to determine the body’s position in space is diminished. With the tape applied, it will stretch as the skin stretches thereby providing additional input to the brain via receptors in the skin, allowing the body to move more efficiently for improved performance and/or decreased injury risk.
Who’s to say how the athletes, or you, may benefit from its use but it’s not a stretch to say the possibilities are numerous.