Modern therapeutic taping is dominated by stretchy, breathable, adhesive fabric strips in a wide variety of colours and shapes. They are used mainly by athletes with the hope of boosting performance, preventing injury, and easing pain. They are also sometimes prescribed to patients going through injury rehab.
Taping variants have a long history in athletics and physical therapy, ranging from the medically pragmatic — supporting a sprained ankle — to barely more than a fashion statement. This article is mainly about the fad/phenomenon of elastic therapy taping, which got going in the 1970s and then exploded in popularity at the 2012 Olympics, where many athletes were covered in SpiderTech tape; other brands rode the wave, like the much older but revitalized Kinesio® Tape, and new competitors like RockTape® and KT Tape®. Without that Olympic boost, taping would probably still be quite obscure.
The therapeutic value of taping has always been dubious at best, and so it remains. Tape probably alters sensation enough to “tinker” with pain and stiffness, a kind of boosted placebo. There’s nothing much new going on here except the marketing, especially the stroke of genius of making tape colourful (an idea that was worth millions). Even elite athletes and their coaches can easily be victims of fads and fashion, and if anything they are actually notoriously superstitious, and their endorsements are not credible.5
The amount of tape being used by athletes lately is fun but fanciful. Science thoroughly undermines it.
The therapy taping origin story: a chiropractic product to “release the body’s natural healing power”
Kinesio Taping was invented by chiropractor Kenzo Kase in the 1970s, and today the company owns several variations of the trademark. “If it doesn’t say Kinesio®, its [sic] not the real thing,” says the Kinesio Tape company, and you call it lowercase “kinesio” tape at your own legal risk.6 Several competitors are now staking a claim on the same ground, each with their own branding spin, but it all started with Kinesio Tape.
“Kinesio” is an abbreviation of kinesiology, the scientific study of movement (also a profession in some places). The brand gets credibility from the word “kinesiology,” but it’s not kinesiology: it’s branding, a product that hitched its wagon to kinesiology with a name.7 It could just as easily have been “Thera Tape” or “Physio Tape” or “Rehab Tape.”
Is taping a brand or a generic concept? A bit of both
Kinesio Taping and its competitors are all classic modality empires, commercialized methods and products that are more about marketing than medicine.8 “Kinesio Taping” is a trademark, but one that is being drowned out by new takes on the same idea: “trademark genericide.” Trademarks die when they become so popular and familiar that people forget who invented them (or never learn in the first place), and when they blur together with competing products and brands, all just variations on a theme. Today people often talk about the brands, but also use terms that no company has (yet) trademarked, like kinesiology taping, therapy taping, athletic taping — all riffing on Kenzo Kase’s big idea: “taping the world for health to release the body’s natural healing power.”
Tape on an Olympic competitor. It’s extremely unlikely that taping achieves anything when applied to the back like this.
The evolution of old school taping for support and compression
When you wrap a sprained ankle in a compression bandage, that’s “taping” too. For instance, ACE™ Tape is a popular 3M brand that has been around forever and makes only the modest promise to “provide protection for weak and injured joints.” For whatever it’s worth, taping has been used to squeeze and stabilize tissue since forever, probably the Stone Age — and it’s not entirely clear why, because it doesn’t really seem to actually do much.910 But in the 20th Century, with the rise of various forms of physical therapy, fancier methods started to emerge long before Kenzo Kase branded a specific product/method.
People were already trying fancier biomechanical tricks with tapes, trying to “correct” things — like making kneecaps slide more evenly.11 It’s difficult to fix dysfunctional biomechanics with tape (surprise surprise).
This trend required faith that (1) such dysfunctions exist in the first place, (2) that they actually matter, and (3) that they can be treated at all, let alone with “hacks” (like a bit of stretchy tape). That’s a fragile chain of premises that has been rusting for twenty years. The “simple” problems of musculoskeletal medicine have proved much too messy for mechanical metaphors to be useful.12
“Structuralism” is the excessive focus on simplistic physical factors in pain, injury & performance — the kinds of things that tape is supposed to “correct.” Reality is far messier.
What does Kinesio Tape supposedly do? Claims, claims, claims!
Therapy tape tries to have its biomechanical cake and reach beyond it too: supposedly it also has effects of physiology too. Here’s an assortment of claims from only the major manufacturers over time:
- release the body’s natural healing power
- promote the body’s natural healing processes
- can be used for hundreds of common injuries
- provides 24 hour pain relief per application for days at a time
- recovery, performance, prevention
- reduce inflammation and swelling
- stimulate the epidermis at a cellar [sic] level
- lift and elevate the space between the tissue layers in the epidermis
- reduce itching and pain from scars
- support and alleviate skin tension
- support and stabilize the muscles in your lower back
- muscle and joint support system to protect against inflammation and chronic pain
- reduce inflammation and support muscles
- enhancement of rehabilitation or performance outcomes
- support efficient human movement
- discomfort control, rehabilitation, edema/swelling management
- improvement of performance, rehabilitation, edema/swelling management, neurologic dysfunction, management of scars and postural conditioning
- relieve pain while supporting muscles, tendons, and ligaments
- lifts the skin, decompressing the layers of fascia, allowing for greater movement of lymphatic fluid which transports white blood cells throughout the body and removes waste products, cellular debris, and bacteria.
- helping the muscle to not over-extend or over-contract
Oh, and let’s not forget: “treats elephantine arthritis!” See below.
Is there anything this stuff can’t do? What’s next? It’ll clean your gutters? Walk your dog? Most of these are gibberish, a vomit of buzzwords, vague promises, and not-even-wrong marketing non-sequiturs. If you boil it all down to specific, testable, plausible claims, this is roughly what we’re left with:
- reduces pain
- prevents injury and promotes recovery
- enhances performance (mainly by increasing circulation)
Can taping do any of that? I am skeptical — and I am not alone.
Class action lawsuits about therapeutic taping
Class action lawsuits don’t prove anything, but their prevalance here is a strong clue that these companies are reaching far enough beyond the science to frustrate a lot of people. KT Health claimed that KT Tape “can be used for hundreds of common injuries” and “provides 24 hour pain relief per application for days at a time through sweat, strain and humidity” … which led to a class action lawsuit.13
Other companies appear to have taken note. The tagline of the Spider Tech website used to say: “Recovery, Performance, Prevention,” but not now! The RockTape about page put out big claims, though carefully framed as a personal view,14 but now removed entirely, probably out of legal caution — but RockTape is now also being sued. They now have a (very fine-print) “not clinically proven for all injuries” asterisk on many of their pages — as if it’s “proven” for any!
“Proof” of benefit is a very high bar that has definitely not been cleared by tape in any way.
Taping in the court of science
Sports medicine is still surprisingly primitive and far from evidence-based in general.15 Many commercial products never get tested properly, if at all. Lucky for us, taping is an exception: taping has gotten lots of research attention, thanks to having the stuff splashed all over our screens constantly during the 2012 Olympics. Other chiropractic inventions (scraping massage tools or applied kinesiology, for instance) might be represented by only a handful of studies on PubMed. There are almost a thousand for Kinesio Tape (as of 2021).
Don’t worry, I won’t cite them all.
Graph of PubMed search results over time for “KinesioTape.”
Therapy taping for pain and injury: a “sensational” product
A cat knows when it has tape stuck to its paw, and so does a human! We can feel tape, and novel sensory input has the potential to change the output — motor control and pain.16 Stick some tape on a bad knee, make sure the patient expects it to be therapeutic, and chances are good that the patient will feel a bit better… for a while. It’s even possible that the knee will actually in some sense work a bit better, for a while.
Several scientific reviews over the last decade all reported evidence of minor benefits for injured athletes.17181920 Case closed? How can a taping skeptic spin that? Like this…
If you read those papers, you’ll get the idea that “something” must be going on… but it’s also clearly not much of something. These are classic damned-with-faint-praise results that we constantly see in sports and musculoskeletal medicine. And whatever modest benefit the studies claim to have discovered is probably coming from bias-powered design flaws, statistical jiggery pokery, and placebo that hasn’t been completely controlled.
In the weird world of pain, bogus treatments can pass seemingly fair tests just because they drive a more potent placebo effect by using persuasive sensations, like tape on your skin.21 A more potent placebo is still just a placebo, and it doesn’t mean the treatment works. All it means is that some things can shovel more false hope than others.22
Taping for performance enhancement
If you exclude the worst studies studies, these are the kind of results you see for taping’s effect on strength (and strength is an excellent proxy for performance in general):
- Taping did not increase quads strength in healthy volunteers in a 2012 test.23
- A similar test in 2016 measured both strength and function (with the “single hop test for distance”). Taping didn’t help.24
- A 2015 study used healthy elite female athletes as subjects. It was a small but well-designed test, and entirely negative; the authors “do not recommend the use of KT for the purpose of improving jump performance.”25
- Another jumping trial in 2018 tested jumping both with and without fatigue, finding “no effect on performance or elastic behavior” and declared it “not effective for demanding activities.”26
- Eighteen strong young lads had their legs taped up while seated and then given tests of flexibility and strength of knee extension. These tests were repeated with knee sleeves, sham taping, and nothing at all. Taping had no effect whatsoever.27
- Rocktape had no benefit compared to sham taping for people with knee osteoarthritis.28
A 2018 review of these studies and many others concluded that “there is a lack of compelling evidence to support the use of KT to enhance the sports performance abilities.”29
Being generous, it’s possible that performance could be subtly enhanced through a combination of minor benefits, individually hard to detect but collectively significant.30 Such enhancement would be modest at best, but could be real if any other benefits are real. However, by far the most common specific mechanism cited is “increasing circulation,” and that is just nonsense…
Boosting performance with circulation specifically
Increasing circulation has always been touted as a mechanism by every other snake oil salesman. But we’re talking about tape on your skin, for crying out loud: this doesn’t stand up to a little physiological perspective, let alone rigorous testing. Circulation is mainly driven by metabolic demand — not by minor stimulation of the skin and superficial connective tissues, or even a bunch of mechanical squishing (as in massage therapy, see Does Massage Increase Circulation?).
The idea that tape can increase circulation anywhere near enough to fight fatigue while exercising is extremely wishful thinking. Blood doping, cocaine, and better fitness can fight fatigue. Not tape.
In someone with venous insufficiency — basically, blood pooling in the legs — you can bind up their calves with tape like compression socks, and that will be … about as helpful as compression socks, and a lot fussier. And you can do that, because obviously you can imitate compression socks with tape, and this has been confirmed.31 I would only be surprised by a robust effect on fit people, and downright shocked if it was a robust enough effect to affect performance, let alone elite performance. We’ve got to get beyond the circulatory effects of “compression” to make a claim of “circulation boosting” stick.
In 2012, Stedge et al did a particularly on-the-nose test of circulation in sixty healthy and active people. This was a well-designed and highly relevant study: they checked muscular endurance, blood flow, and more in the gastrocnemius, the big calf muscle, both with and without taping. But nothing was even slightly different in the taped calves.32 Fail!
Not that mere increased skin circulation would be significant to athletes, but kinesiology taping doesn’t even do that, for what it’s worth: a 2020 test found no effect at all compared to non-elastic taping or placebo.33
I wouldn’t bet on taping being standard equipment for the pro sports teams and Olympians of the future.
Another suped-up competitor. It does look good. Of course, these athletes look good no matter what.
Bemused scientific post script: does the colour of the tape matter?
Surely black tape is the fastest? Well, maybe red… 🤔
But no. A 2018 study reported completely negative results from testing the effect of kinesiology tape colour on performance and function — which might just be the least surprising study result in the history of sports medicine.34 Dr. Clay Jones for ScienceBasedMedicine.org:
Nothing mattered. Tape color didn’t matter. Color preference didn’t matter. “Proper” placement of KT with tension didn’t matter. No effect on performance, strength, or function was found in any experimental round compared to the control round for any of the subjects. It was a solidly negative result that is in line with previous and much better studies, showing that KT doesn’t have any specific benefit or much of a non-specific benefit either. And the effect of colored versus plain KT doesn’t deserve any ad hoc excuses.
That all said, it wouldn’t actually have shocked me if colour made a difference. I simply would have chalked it up to the psychological power of snazzy dressing and feeling cool.
Is there something to it? Something less than amazing, but better than nothing? Sure, if you define something as:
- fairly cheap
- totally safe
- a strong placebo effect
Tape is just a sensation-tweaker. Playfully creating fresh sensations a very homo sapiens thing to do. If we don’t do it with tape, we’ll do it with something else. We are input-ouput machines, constantly and creatively screwing around with how we feel, touch-testing the world. That’s fine as far as it goes. Applying tape in this spirit is only “wishful thinking” if you have unreasonable expectations of it.
But unreasonable expectations are exactly what most people have.
Taping gets a lot of testimonials, of course. One taping enthusiast told me, emphasis mine, “I know there’s too much hype, but taping has amazing results.” Really? “Amazing” isn’t just a wee bit hyperbolic? Antiobiotics are amazing. Heart transplants are amazing. The results of taping are not amazing.
Functional challenge (training) is always going to be far more important drivers of recovery and performance than any amount of sensory tinkering. Tape is a gimmick promising a short-cut. I don’t think it has a hope in hell of generating consistent, clinically significant effects on function in rehab, let alone in healthy athletes. The bottom line is always going to be that we have to stress ourselves a bit to get better than we are — and being taped isn’t much of a challenge.
While I don’t really mind “sensory tinkering” with reasonable expectations, please keep it free. Don’t fund this industry. Don’t dump your money into a hype machine.
About Paul Ingraham
I am a science writer in Vancouver, Canada. I was a Registered Massage Therapist for a decade and the assistant editor of ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I’ve had many injuries as a runner and ultimate player, and I’ve been a chronic pain patient myself since 2015. Full bio. See you on Facebook or Twitter.
- What Does Current Evidence Say About the Effectiveness of Kinesio Taping? A more thorough review of the science than this, with a bunch of expert perspective.
Other related topics on PainScience.com:
- Diagnosing Runner’s Knee — It usually starts with lateral knee pain during and after runs, but there are two major types
- Massage Therapy for Your Quads — Perfect Spot No. 8, another one for runners, the distal vastus lateralis of the quadriceps group
- Is Running on Pavement Risky? — Hard-surface running may be a risk factor for running injuries like patellofemoral pain, IT band syndrome, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis
- Should You Get A Lube Job for Your Arthritic Knee? — Reviewing the science of injecting artificial synovial fluid, especially for patellofemoral pain
- Does Hip Strengthening Work for IT Band Syndrome? — The popular “weak hips” theory is itself weak
- IT Band & Patellofemoral Pain Defy Common Sense — The science shows that you can’t blame runner’s knee on structural quirks that seem like “obvious” problems
- Patellofemoral Pain & the Vastus Medialis Myth — Can just one quarter of the quadriceps be the key to anterior knee pain?
- Patellofemoral Tracking Syndrome — The beating heart of the conventional wisdom about patellofemoral pain is mostly nonsense
What’s new in this article?
Five updates have been logged for this article since publication (2013). All PainScience.com updates are logged to show a long term commitment to quality, accuracy, and currency. more
Like good footnotes, update logging sets PainScience.com apart from most other health websites and blogs. It’s fine print, but important fine print, in the same spirit of transparency as the editing history available for Wikipedia pages.
I log any change to articles that might be of interest to a keen reader. Complete update logging started in 2016. Prior to that, I only logged major updates for the most popular and controversial articles.
See the What’s New? page for updates to all recent site updates.
May 24, 2021 — Minor science update, just piling on with another new negative trial of taping (McManus).
February — Major upgrade, a complete reboot of the article: more of everything, especially citations. Previously it was just a brief “position statement” on the topic, now it’s a full-fledged critical analysis. The bottom line is still the same: skeptical. The biggest single change is the strong emphasis on the interesting fact that therapeutic taping was a chiropractor’s invention from back in the 1970s, and a relatively obscure one until the 2012 Olympics, not a staple of physical therapy and rehab. This really helps make the important point that therapeutic taping is more about marketing than medicine.
2020 — Added short new section about some silly research: “Bemused scientific post script: does the colour of the tape matter?” Spoiler: no.
2019 — Added three citations showing a lack of effect of taping on pain.
2017 — Added footnote about a class action lawsuit of taping claims.
2013 — Publication.
- Kamper SJ, Henschke N. Kinesio taping for sports injuries. Br J Sports Med. 2013 Nov;47(17):1128–9. PubMed #24159095 ❐ From the conclusion:
Kinesio taping does not appear to have a beneficial effect on pain when compared with sham treatment. Based mostly on studies of healthy populations, there are inconsistent results for other outcome measures such as ROM, strength, muscle activity and proprioception. … At present there appears to be little high quality evidence on which to assess the effectiveness of kinesio taping, it is hoped that future research will clarify the situation.
- Bennell KL, Hinman RS, Metcalf BR, et al. Efficacy of physiotherapy management of knee joint osteoarthritis: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial. Ann Rheum Dis. 2005 Jun;64(6):906–12. PubMed #15897310 ❐
This paper reports on a test of several physical therapy techniques — taping, exercises, massage and mobilization — for knee osteoarthritis. I wouldn’t really expect any of those to be helpful for osteoarthritis, and they weren’t in this test. The researchers compared the treatment programme to a non-treatment of “sham ultrasound and light application of a non-therapeutic gel.” Everything produced pretty about the same results; the treatment programme was “no more effective than regular contact with a therapist.” This makes every component of the treatment programme look bad. If even one of them was moderately effective, patients should have gotten better. So this study constitutes decent evidence that taping, exercise, and massage are basically useless treatments for osteoarthritis of the knee, both individually and together, are not really going to put a dent in osteoarthritis.
- Aguilar-Ferrándiz 2013, op. cit. “Kinesio taping may have a placebo effect on pain.”
- Parreira Pd, Costa Ld, Hespanhol J, Lopes AD, Costa LO. Current evidence does not support the use of Kinesio Taping in clinical practice: a systematic review. J Physiother. 2014 Mar;60(1):31–9. PubMed #24856938 ❐ The current evidence does not support the use of this intervention in [people with musculoskeletal conditions].
- On the one hand, elite athletes and their coaches and trainers are constantly driving innovation in exercise and sports health science, with obviously impressive results over time — a strongly positive long term trend. Today’s athletes are capable of feats that were once unthinkable. On the other hand, they are also wrong a lot, and countless approaches have been tried and abandoned over the decades. Often athletes have only made progress when they abandoned the pointless rituals and errors of the past!
- Kinesio protects their trademark, as brands have the legal right to do (no matter how annoying it is). For example:
- Wade, Alison. Maker of Kinesio Tape Threatens Sport Lab in Name Dispute. Sep 10, 2014. Runner’s World. Retrieved Feb 24, 2021.
- Domrzalski, Dennis. Competitors tie up Kinesio in red tape over its therapeutic invention. Nov 12, 2010. American City Business Journals. Retrieved Retrieved Feb 24, 2021.
- They aren’t the first to do that, and probably won’t be the last (see “applied kinesiology,” an ludicrous diagnostic method used by many naturopaths and chiropractors that’s more like palm reading than medicine).
“Modality empire” is my own term for an ego-driven proprietary method or mode of manual therapy — a sub-discipline — championed and promoted by a single charismatic entrepreneur. Most of the “emperors” have healer syndrome, lack humility, make big promises, and make their money from unusually expensive therapy, workshops and books. Professionals are sold on the opportunity to purchase credibility in the form of increasing “levels” of certification, but the quality of these certifications is completely unregulated and often dubious. A modality empire is as much a business model as a method of helping people, and many are quite unoriginal, just branding old ideas for a new generation of workshop consumers. Obviously there is a lot of overlap between modality empires and quackery, but (just as obviously) they aren’t all bad. For more information, see Modality Empires: The trouble with the toxic tradition of ego-driven, trademarked treatment methods in massage therapy, chiropractic, and physiotherapy.
- Borra V, Berry DC, Zideman D, Singletary E, De Buck E. Compression Wrapping for Acute Closed Extremity Joint Injuries: A Systematic Review. J Athl Train. 2020 Aug;55(8):789–800. PubMed #32688372 ❐ PainSci #51745 ❐ “In this systematic review, we could not demonstrate either a beneficial or harmful effect from the application of a compression or elastic bandage compared with no compression or a noncompressive stocking, splint, or brace as a first aid treatment in the prehospital environment.”
- No one doubts that you can stabilize a joint with tape, although there are many reasonable doubts about how much it matters. The answer is probably just that it feels nice: sensory distraction and reassurance. It probably provides minor pain relief, top-down modulation due to the joint feeling more secure and safe. That’s not nothing, but it’s also not going to register as a significant therapeutic effect.
- I discuss this specific use in much greater detail in my patellofemoral pain syndrome book. Long story short, the evidence shows that taping has little or no effect on patellar position. For instance, as early as 1993, Bockrath et al found taping was “not associated with patella position changes,” and in 2002 Salsich et al showed that “vastus lateralis EMG activity level did not change with taping.”
- “Structuralism” is the excessive focus on crookedness and “mechanical” problems as causes of pain. It has been the dominant way of thinking about how pain works for decades, and yet it is a source of much bogus diagnosis. Structuralism has been criticized by several experts, and many studies confirmed there are no clear connections between biomechanical problems and pain. Many fit, symmetrical people have severe pain problems! And many crooked people have little pain. Certainly there are some structural factors in pain, but they are generally much less important than messy physiology, neurology, psychology. Structuralism remains dominant because it offers comforting, marketable simplicity. For instance, “alignment” is the dubious goal of many major therapy methods, especially chiropractic adjustment and Rolfing. See Your Back Is Not Out of Alignment: Debunking the obsession with alignment, posture, and other biomechanical bogeymen as major causes of pain.
- In mid-2017, the class action lawsuit against KT Health concluded with a settlement: KT Health agreed to pay 1.75 million dollars to consumers, and to modify its packaging and advertising.
An archived 2015 copy of the original is still available. The page was revised to be a bit more cautious in 2016 and 2017, and then it disappeared altogether from their American website in 2018.
I discovered that the tape can be used to ENHANCE PERFORMANCE. I found that taping in advance of exercise promotes increased blood flow to the muscles, thereby reducing fatigue.
- We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t fix most chronic pain. The science and treatment of pain was neglected for decades while medicine had bigger fish to fry, and it remains a backwater to this day. The seemingly simpler “mechanical” problems of musculoskeletal health care have proven to be surprisingly weird and messy. The field is dominated by obsolete conventional wisdom and the speculations of desperate patients and opportunistic cure purveyors, and ignorance is widespread thanks to professional pride and tribalism, ideological momentum, screwed up incentives, and poor critical thinking skills. But the worst single offender is probably the pernicious and nearly unanimous oversimplification of treating the body too much like a complex mechanical device (“structuralism”). See A Historical Perspective On Aches ‘n’ Pains: We are living in a golden age of pain science and musculoskeletal medicine … sorta.
- Callaghan MJ, McKie S, Richardson P, Oldham JA. Effects of Patellar Taping on Brain Activity During Knee Joint Proprioception Tests Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Phys Ther. 2012 Jun;9(6):821–30. PubMed #22282771 ❐
After showing that patellar taping improved proprioception (see Callaghan 2002), this straightforward study of brain activity is small and un-powerful, but it also isn’t trying to prove much: just that “patellar taping modulates brain activity in several areas of the brain during a proprioception knee movement task.” This tends to support the notion that taping changes how the knee feels, at least temporarily, which may in turn have an effect on pain.
- Montalvo AM, Cara EL, Myer GD. Effect of kinesiology taping on pain in individuals with musculoskeletal injuries: systematic review and meta-analysis. Phys Sportsmed. 2014 May;42(2):48–57. PubMed #24875972 ❐
- Lim EC, Tay MG. Kinesio taping in musculoskeletal pain and disability that lasts for more than 4 weeks: is it time to peel off the tape and throw it out with the sweat? A systematic review with meta-analysis focused on pain and also methods of tape application. Br J Sports Med. 2015 Dec;49(24):1558–66. PubMed #25595290 ❐
- Williams S, Whatman C, Hume PA, Sheerin K. Kinesio taping in treatment and prevention of sports injuries: a meta-analysis of the evidence for its effectiveness. Sports Med. 2012 Feb;42(2):153–64. PubMed #22124445 ❐
- Mostafavifar M, Wertz J, Borchers J. A systematic review of the effectiveness of kinesio taping for musculoskeletal injury. Phys Sportsmed. 2012 Nov;40(4):33–40. PubMed #23306413 ❐
- I call this “sensation-enhanced” placebo. For more information, see Placebo Power Hype.
- And it can be tough to do a good apples-to-apples comparison. Comparing real pills to sugar pills are easy; comparing real taping to “sugar taping” is not.
- Vercelli S, Sartorio F, Foti C, et al. Immediate effects of kinesiotaping on quadriceps muscle strength: a single-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. Clin J Sport Med. 2012 Jul;22(4):319–26. PubMed #22450591 ❐
Shocker: this experiment found that applying athletic taping had no effect on muscle strength: “These results do not support the use of kinesiotape applied in this way to change maximal muscle strength in healthy people.”
Advocates of taping have protested that a study of healthy subjects is irrelevant, but it’s clear that tape is routinely, fashionably used on/by many serious and elite athletes who are fighting fit and not “injured” enough for it to be likely to make a meaningful difference to this research. In other words, if tape can’t enhance the strength of an average healthy athlete, it probably can’t do it for a slightly injured elite one either.
- Fernandes de Jesus J, de Almeida Novello A, Bezerra Nakaoka G, et al. Kinesio taping effect on quadriceps strength and lower limb function of healthy individuals: A blinded, controlled, randomized, clinical trial. Phys Ther Sport. 2016 Mar;18:27–31. PubMed #26708093 ❐
- Schiffer T, Möllinger A, Sperlich B, Memmert D. Kinesio taping and jump performance in elite female track and field athletes and jump performance in elite female track and field athletes. J Sport Rehabil. 2015 Feb;24(1):47–50. PubMed #24959912 ❐
- Boozari S, Sanjari MA, Amiri A, Ebrahimi Takamjani I. Effect of Gastrocnemius Kinesio Taping on Countermovement Jump Performance and Vertical Stiffness Following Muscle Fatigue. J Sport Rehabil. 2018 Jul;27(4):306–311. PubMed #28513277 ❐
- de Freitas FS, Brown LE, Gomes WA, Behm DG, Marchetti PH. No Effect of Kinesiology Tape on Passive Tension, Strength or Quadriceps Muscle Activation of During Maximal Voluntary Isometric Contractions in Resistance Trained Men. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2018 Aug;13(4):661–667. PubMed #30140559 ❐ PainSci #51754 ❐
- Kim L. McManus, Lara A. Kimmel, Anne E. Holland. RockTape provides no benefit over sham taping in people with knee osteoarthritis who are completing an exercise program: a randomised trial. Physiotherapy. 2021. PainSci #51806 ❐
- Reneker JC, Latham L, McGlawn R, Reneker MR. Effectiveness of kinesiology tape on sports performance abilities in athletes: A systematic review. Phys Ther Sport. 2018 May;31:83–98. PubMed #29248350 ❐
- “Performance enhancement” is usually a problematic claim, because it’s commonly based on sloppy extrapolation from recovery effects (which are themselves often a bit sketchy). What helps people who are sick or broke is definitely not necessarily effective for fit, healthy people. Rehabilitation and performance enhancement are different things. On the one hand, they are the same process with different starting points. On the other hand, how much value the body can extract from an input is generally proportionate to the need. A glass of water is more important to a man dying of thirst, and novel sensation is more neurologically useful to an injured person than a healthy Olympian. Many things that are legitimately useful in rehab are pretty much useless for performance enhancement. Here’s a simple, tangentially related example: compression bandaging for swelling. Unambiguously handy in recovery … but useless if you’re not swollen!
- Aguilar-Ferrándiz ME, Castro-Sánchez AM, Matarán-Peñarrocha GA, et al. A randomized controlled trial of a mixed Kinesio taping-compression technique on venous symptoms, pain, peripheral venous flow, clinical severity and overall health status in postmenopausal women with chronic venous insufficiency. Clin Rehabil. 2013 Feb. PubMed #23426563 ❐ “Compression socks with tape,” quipped @exuberantdoc, and that’s probably all the commentary on this paper that’s really called for.
- Stedge HL, Kroskie RM, Docherty CL. Kinesio taping and the circulation and endurance ratio of the gastrocnemius muscle. J Athl Train. 2012;47(6):635–42. PubMed #23182011 ❐ PainSci #51756 ❐
- Banerjee G, Briggs M, Johnson MI. The immediate effects of kinesiology taping on cutaneous blood flow in healthy humans under resting conditions: A randomised controlled repeated-measures laboratory study. PLoS One. 2020;15(2):e0229386. PubMed #32084245 ❐ PainSci #51751 ❐
- Cavaleri R, Thapa T, Beckenkamp PR, Chipchase LS. The influence of kinesiology tape colour on performance and corticomotor activity in healthy adults: a randomised crossover controlled trial. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2018;10:17. PubMed #30410769 ❐ PainSci #51903 ❐