Kinesiology tape for recovery – reducing DOMS

DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is a common symptom following intense bouts of exercise, and something that most of us have felt at one time or another.  There is growing evidence of benefits from applying kinesiology tape to key muscle groups following exercise to help reduce DOMS and the associated strength and flexibility loss.

A Korean study by Kim, Kim and Lee took 32 young, healthy males who were unaccustomed to strength training.  The subjects were measured at baseline for maximal isometric strength, muscle soreness (VAS scale), range of motion (ROM) of the elbow and serum levels of Creatine Kinase (CK).  The subjects were divided into four groups with one control group and three experimental taping groups that all had the same tape application over their biceps, but it was left on for different lengths of time after exercise:

  • Control group without any taping at all
  • Biceps tape before exercise and then removed immediately after (‘activity only’)
  • Biceps tape before exercise and then removed 30 minutes after (‘30 minute’)
  • Biceps tape before exercise and then removed 24 hours after (‘24 hour’)

The subjects were asked to do a modified preacher curl to eccentrically load the biceps and then immediately after the exercise protocol the strength and ROM were tested, with all four outcome measures then being repeated at 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours and 96 hours.

The study showed that tape application for 24 hours following exercise gave superior results for muscle strength, with statistical significance when compared with controls at 24, 48 and 96 hours, and when compared with the ‘activity only’ group at 48 and 96 hours.

With regards to perceived soreness, the ‘30 minute’ application and the ‘24 hour’ application gave superior results when compared with no tape or ‘activity only’.  Range of motion changes also favoured the ’24 hour’ application at 24 and 48 hours.  The CK markers were also significantly better in the ’24 hour’ group at 96 hours.

The exact physiological mechanisms to explain these changes remain somewhat elusive.  There is certainly mounting evidence that perceived pain can be altered with kinesiology tape, and given that pain is often associated with muscle inhibition, the improvements seen in perceived muscle soreness, ROM and maximal strength may be explained by changes in the neural system.  However, the CK changes may not be entirely neurally mediated.  This difference in CK levels could represent a difference in muscle damage that occurred during exercise (perhaps through better neuromotor efficiency?) or possibly hastened recovery through improved lymphatic or blood flow.  The concept of improved lymphatic/blood flow is somewhat contentious, and one that requires further research, but study results such as this will hopefully pique the interest of researchers in this area and further evidence can be gained in future.

Whilst this study is only small in size, it has demonstrated a potential benefit of kinesiology tape that is often not utilised.  Reducing DOMS and enhancing recovery is often seen as the “Holy Grail” of athlete management.  Applying kinesiology tape to targeted muscle groups may be one key piece of the recovery jigsaw that is easy, cheap and portable, and may help your athletes “Go Stronger, Longer”.

Kim, J., Kim, S., & Lee, J., (2016). Longer application of kinesio taping would be beneficial for exercise-induced muscle damage. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation 12(5) 456-462