Like many other treatments that physical therapists do, it seems as though the enthusiasm and support behind kinesiology taping is not in proportion to the evidence. The most generous thing we can say with any scientific certainty about kinesiology taping is that it can relieve pain by small amounts in the short term. The most parsimonious explanation is that it is simply a placebo, and the pain relief it provides can account for some changes in strength, ROM, and other functional parameters that are typically measured. This would explain why we see non-clinically meaningful decreases in pain and the statistical noise in the other outcome measures. It is presented as a novel treatment, has a plausible-sounding mechanism of action, and provides some sensory input to the area that is non-harmful. This is yet another treatment that situates itself in the grey area that is subjective pain relief; where any product or service that provides sensory input that is perceived as non-harmful, and is presented to a patient as something that will soften their pain, will actually do it.
When considering whether or not kinesiology taping is something we want to incorporate, we have two perspectives to consider. From a strictly clinical perspective, pain relief is something we care about, via placebo or not. Kinesiology taping can provide short-term pain relief that will allow a patient to move and exercise while they are on it, in a way that a hot pack or a cold pack cannot. Plus it is cheap and easy to apply. If a patient is interested in it, and you provide them an honest explanation of what the research suggests in regards to efficacy, and you make it clear that the important part of the treatment is movement and exercise, and they understand all these things, I see no problem with incorporating it.
I do have a problem however, when considering the physical therapy profession as a whole and our pernicious tendency to adopt treatments that have not yet demonstrated efficacy. We very quickly utilize treatments that often don’t stand up to any scientific scrutiny. After pouring through multiple placebo-controlled trials and reviews, it is very clear that the claims from companies that make kinesiology tape are overblown.
Kinesiology tape has not been shown to do the things companies that sell it suggest it can do.
Kinesiology taping is the definition of overhyped. There are obviously some effects that are present, but they are just not as strong as the companies want you to think they are.
- The research we have thus far does not support the use of kinesiology taping for anything but short term pain relief, despite the claims from manufacturers.
- Kinesiology taping probably works similar to e-stim in that it provides sensory input to the area that is perceived as non-harmful, thus providing some pain relief. Any effects we see are likely neurological and/or psychological in nature and not biomechanical.
- Placebo or not, kinesiology taping is cheap, easy to apply, and does not take up much time, making it a possible choice.
- It is important for you and the patient to know the role kinesiology tape will play in their rehab. It is a small piece, if it is a piece at all, and it certainly is not something that will replace progressive exercise, gradual exposure, and building load tolerance.
- It probably does not matter much how you tape someone, provided there is a good amount of tension on the tape to provide enough input and it is in the area where the patient has pain.
- Kinesiology taping is a prime example of a treatment fad with questionable plausibility and over-broad application, but some sliver of effectiveness. We need to be on the lookout for these things, especially when we want to bring our profession into solid scientific ground. Look at the research, question your instructors, and demand to see the science.