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Patello-femoral pain is the most common knee complaint, and it usually requires a multi-faceted treatment approach.  The pain can be influenced by local tissue factors around the knee, as well as factors more proximal or distal, or both.  In addition to traditional local management strategies which include taping the knee, there has been a lot of recent research suggesting the lack of hip/gluteal control leads to increased femoral rotation, and a “medial collapse” of the knee.  This may be a causative factor for pain in this population, particularly amongst females.

A recent study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport showed that taping the thigh in an attempt to address this issue was successful in reducing knee pain.  This small study, with 16 females with patella-femoral pain (average age 25.7) and 8 age-matched healthy controls, measured pain via a Visual Analogue Scale (VAS), frontal plane kinematics via a 3D motion tracking system, and EMG of the muscles whilst the subjects performed a single leg squat.  These measurements were taken for each subject in three randomised conditions- tape, sham tape and no tape.  The subjects were taped in a “postural” manner, in that the tape was applied in standing with the femur in full external rotation, with light stretch on the tape from VMO region, spiralling up around the lateral thigh and finishing at the PSIS.  The sham tape was applied in the same pattern but in a neutral starting position and no tape stretch.

The study showed that without tape, the patello-femoral pain group had greater “medial collapse” than the controls, replicating the findings of other studies.  When the subjects were tested with the tape in situ, both the therapeutic taping and the sham taping were effective in reducing knee pain.  The “therapeutic” taping was more effective at altering patello-femoral kinematics (ie patella position), but did not lessen the overall medial collapse.  The sham taping effectively reduced pain, but did not appreciably change the patella kinematics.  Neither condition appreciably changed muscle activity when measured via EMG.

The measures were only taken immediately after the tape was applied in both taping conditions.  Perhaps with the altered kinematics of the patella with the “therapeutic” taping, we would expect to see a greater reduction of pain over time when compared with the sham taping, and perhaps even some change in the femoral kinematics through learned behaviour or normalising of kinematics by reducing pain-caused compensatory mechanisms?  This may have also shown some change in muscle recruitment, once the potential pain inhibition had been decreased for a longer period.

The fact that the sham taping also reduced the pain significantly demonstrates that tape applied to the skin in any fashion alters the afferent input and therefore the perception of pain can be reduced.  Whether this would be sustained beyond an immediate effect was not addressed in this study as there were no subsequent measures taken over 3-5 days after each application.

Along with most studies, there are some methodological flaws in this one, however it demonstrates that femoral taping may be an effective adjunct to reduce pain in the overall management of those with patello-femoral pain.

Song, C., Huang, H., Chen, S., Lin, J., & Chang, A.H., (2015). Effects of femoral rotation taping on pain, lower extremity kinematics, and muscle activation in female patients with patello-femoral pain. Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport 18 (4) 388-393