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To Tape or Not to Tape?

The inside scoop on kinesiology tape.

If you’ve watched sports lately, you’ve likely seen kinesiology tape. Found at swim meets, soccer games, volleyball matches and more, the bright-colored strips of tape stretch across athletes’ knees, ankles, shoulers, and backs. You may wonder how a piece of tape could benefit someone playing a sport.

Worn by athletes across the world, kinesiology tape is also known as kinesio tape or elastic therapeutic tape. Here’s what you need to know about this specialty tape.

The Purpose

You may be familiar with athletic tape. Used to give stability and support to an injured muscle or joint, athletic tape has been a staple of athletic courts and fields for decades. It is applied to ankles, wrists, and more in an effort to immobilize injured areas and prevent further damage.

On the other hand, kinesiology tape is used by physical therapists to reduce swelling, provide some support, decrease pain, and improve performance. It’s not meant for joints or muscles that require a high amount of stabilization or support. Rather, it is used to promote healing and rehabilitation. When kinesiology tape is applied to the skin, it slightly lifts the skin from recovering tissue. This creates a space that allows increased blood flow, decreases pressure on joints, and improves the flow of lymph to remove toxins. As a result, the tape reduces swelling and inflammation, which ultimately decreases pain.

Kinesiology tape is made of elastic cotton or nylon with an adhesive side that sticks to the skin. Since it’s stretchy, it works like a rubber band to support muscles and relieve stress on joints while still allowing a full range of motion. The tape is water resistant and can stay on the skin for up to three days, even if you shower or sweat. For these reasons and more, kinesiology tape has become quite popular among athletes.

How to Use It

While offering some short-term benefit to athletes, kinesiology tape is often helpful when used in conjunction with a physical therapy program. Before using tape for pain, however, see a doctor to evaluate the underlying cause of pain. Prior to your first application, have a trained sports professional teach you how to use the tape. If used incorrectly, the tape can actually worsen an existing injury.

The way the tape is applied to the skin depends on the purpose of the tape. You may see tape in a straight line, an X or Y-shape, or fanned out. Before the tape is applied, make sure the skin is clean and dry. Don’t use lotion on the area, as it can keep the tape from sticking. You may also want to shave hair so the tape more strongly adheres and is less painful to remove.

As you apply the tape, don’t touch the sticky side. Otherwise, it will lose its stickiness. As you apply the tape, stretch it based on how tight you need it to feel. Once the tape is applied, rub it for a few seconds to activate the glue. It takes about 20 minutes for the tape to completely adhere.

How to Remove

After a few days, the tape will loosen on its own. When you’re ready to remove the tape, loosen it more by applying oil or lotion. Do not yank the tape off like a bandage. Instead, slowly pull the tape back on itself, rather than pulling up. Press your skin down and slowly walk your fingers down as you remove the tape. It’s rare, but if your skin shows irritation or damage, wait until it heals before applying more kinesiology tape.