One of the proposed mechanisms of kinesiology tape is that the convolutions created on the skin when the tape is applied correctly helps to reduce pain. The theory is that by offloading the nociceptors and stimulating other mechanoreceptors, an alternate afferent input is provided to the brain, and the perception of pain is altered. A recent Brazilian study found that in a population of people with chronic low back pain, there were similar improvements in the reduction of pain whether these convolutions were present or not.
This study of 148 people randomised the subjects to have kinesiology tape applied “correctly” with the low back in flexion, or as a “sham” application with the same tape applied but with no tape tension and applying it in an upright neutral lordosis position. They then measured pain via a visual analogue scale (VAS) at the end of the four week study period (8 applications), as well as using the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ) to measure any functional changes. Eight weeks later they repeated these measures to see if there had been any carryover effect of the taping treatment, as well as using the Global Perceived Effect (GPE) scale that rates the benefit that the patient perceives the treatment provided.
Interestingly, both groups showed similar improvements in pain reduction at 4 weeks, and then only some worsening eight weeks later, but pain levels were still significantly less than at the start of the study. Given there was no other treatment provided, this is quite an amazing finding, as typically we would recommend that kinesiology taping be used as an adjunct to treatment such as manual therapy, but not actually be the only treatment provided. The fact that this group of people who had back pain for a significant period felt some benefit from the tape even eight weeks after it was last applied is quite remarkable. Likewise their RMDQ scores also showed improvement at both 4 weeks and 12 weeks. The group with the tape applied “correctly” rated the effect of their treatment slightly higher on the GPE scale at 12 weeks.
So what does that mean regarding the correct application of the tape? This population of chronic back pain sufferers may not be the best group of people to determine whether there is greater effect having convolutions present or not. There has been a significant body of evidence that shows that people in chronic pain often have a lack of body awareness and fine/ two point discrimination, with some chronic back pain sufferers even being unable to draw their lumbar region accurately on a body chart, reflecting a poor somatosensory representation of this area. So this research tells us that in a population of chronic back pain, the tape may be effective regardless of how it is applied. It would be potentially erroneous to extrapolate this finding to other body parts, or to populations with acute or sub-acute pain at this time.
Parreira, P.S., Costa, L.M., Takahashi, R., Hespanhol Jr, L.C., da Luz Jr, M.A., da Silva T.M., & Costa, L.O.P., (2014). Kinesio taping to generate skin convolutions is not better than sham taping for people with chronic non-specific low back pain: a randomised trial. Journal of Physiotherapy 60, 90-96.