I was sitting outside a dance studio last week, waiting for class to begin, and I started my pre-class ritual. As usual, I took out my tap shoes and my little accessories bag and set them to the side. Then I took off my shoes and socks – a typical pre-class ritual – when I started chatting with a woman I hadn’t seen before. As I moved through my ritual and got to my bright blue kinesiology tape, she asked what it was and why I was using it. I explained about it giving support and improving proprioception when she noticed two other women doing the same. We joked about being old ladies tap dancing and needing all the help we could get.
But her reaction and curiosity aren’t unique. Every time I tape my feet before a dance class I get questions. When my feet/ankles are peeking out of my clothes the day after a dance class, people in the office ask questions – or more recently they nod in understanding.
You see, this stuff is the magic tape. It’s not standard athletic tape. It’s not the hard, immobile white stuff that we all know from pushing through a sprain or a twist (or watching athletes push through). This tape is more flexible and allows for a wide range of applications. It made a splash in the summer Olympics when athletes were wearing it on their shoulders and stomachs. Heck, one of the brands even sponsors US Swimming.
A tape by any other name
Kinesiology tape is often called Kinesio tape, but that is just one particular brand of tape. You may also hear it called k-tape or KT tape (another brand name). These are all just flavors of the same thing – an adhesive elastic tape designed to help with musculoskeletal sports industries and inflammatory conditions.
So what makes Kinesiology tape special?
It’s an effective method for treating injury and inflammation with no side effects (unless you have allergies to adhesives – in that case, proceed with caution) and few contraindications. And non-pros can learn to apply it themselves. It is significantly less expensive than other braces or mobility supports.
It can be used on just about any part of your body from the bottoms of your feet to your neck. While traditional strapping tape is tight and restrictive, kinesiology tape is flexible and allows for greater range of motion and doesn’t inhibit circulation when applied so you can leave it on for several days rather than several hours. (I’m all for the set it and forget it part of this).
Should you use it?
Runners and athletes everywhere are using it. I’ve seen Instagrams of professional ballerinas using it. Half of my tap class uses it. But should you? The scientific research on the effectiveness of the tape is mixed – some say it may be a placebo effect and some of the proven benefits are limited to improving muscle performance in the quads while running. It has also been shown to be effective in treating runner’s knee (taping her knee with kinesiology tape has been a game changer for my mom).
Many physical therapists use the tape as one part of a rehab treatment plan and you shouldn’t expect some tape you stick on your muscles to fix everything or to make an instant change.
To get the most benefit, you should make sure you are taught by your physical therapist how to tape correctly. (I first learned from YouTube videos while looking into it as an option to keep me dancing with peroneal tendonitis but I have since made sure to get some pointers from my PT). Because it has so few side effects, I always vote for trying.
If you do use the tape, make sure your skin is clean and dry (you can’t have recently used lotion). I even wipe off my skin with alcohol before using. Some brands make a spray that makes the tape even stickier, but I find that to be unnecessary for normal activities (it might be helpful to use if you are doing water sports).
My favorite is KT Tape Pro. It sticks the best and is also the least painful to remove when it is time to rip it off. And on Amazon, it is often the same price as the generic brands at drugstores. CVS and Walgreens both have their own brands. Theraband also makes a version that comes in some fun prints – I mean, if you’re going to wear ridiculous looking tape, you might as well have fun with it.
For me, KT tape has changed my life. The gentle support allows me to keep dancing when the tendonitis in my right ankle is flaring up and helps my body move correctly so the pain and inflammation calm down. It’s also been incredibly helpful by adding support and proprioceptive cues to my numb right foot and leg. For my mom’s knee, it was a game changer. She can do stairs and it helped her do yoga with less pain. For both of us that pain reduction has meant improved strength and flexibility and an overall decrease in pain. While I wait for further clinical studies, I’ll keep using this so called “magic tape”.
Please note this is not intended to be medical advice. We are not diagnosing or treating any condition. Please make sure you consult with your doctor or physical therapist before trying kinesiology tape to make sure you are healthy enough to use it.
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.