There is a growing body of evidence that suggests kinesiology tape may be helpful in reducing pain. The exact mechanism by which this occurs remains somewhat speculative. It has traditionally been taught that by applying kinesiology tape with some stretch, convolutions form in the skin. This is thought to stimulate the skin’s mechanoreceptors, giving the brain an alternate source of neural input to “outcompete” the nociceptive input for the brain’s attention, thus resulting in a reduction in the pain perceived. The effectiveness of T.E.N.S. could be based on a similar principle.
A Brazilian study from 2015 has challenged this notion by comparing the pain reducing effect of kinesiology tape applied with 25% stretch, with an identical taping applied without any stretch. They had 85 healthy, young University students divided into 2 groups. One group were to have the stretched tape applied to the back of their non-dominant hand/wrist and the other group were to have the same application without stretch. Firstly, both groups completed a baseline test of pain induction by cold water immersion. Their hands were placed in 0-2°C water and the time taken to report pain was recorded, along with the total time they were able to keep their hand in the water. The subjects also rated their pain on a VAS scale.
The subjects were then taped according to their group allocation – stretched tape or unstretched tape. They left the tape in situ for 24 hours whilst performing their usual activities. The tape was then removed and the test repeated.
Interestingly the time taken for the onset of pain significantly increased for both groups. The total time of immersion also increased for both groups. The reported VAS level of pain was also significantly less for both groups. The study found no difference between the stretched tape group and the unstretched tape group. So whilst it appears that kinesiology tape reduced the cold-induced pain, the authors state that the effect would need to be explained by some other mechanism than the convolutions formed by the stretched tape seeing as both groups were similar in results. Perhaps if the tape had been left in place for the second immersion, there may have been some difference in results? It is also possible that the improvement in pain tolerance was due to the learning effect, as the order of testing was not randomised.
It would seem plausible that tape applied to the skin would stimulate some mechanoreceptors regardless of whether or not it has stretch applied, particularly in a very sensitive area such as the hand. This study does lack generalisability due to the study being conducted on the hand, and also with young, healthy subjects. Tactile acuity may be different in those with pain, or if the tape was applied elsewhere on the body with less sensory representation in the brain. However, clinically, perhaps we can be less concerned about the exact amount of stretch applied, and likewise patients can more confidently apply their own tape without being as pedantic with the tape stretch.
This study supports our philosophy at RockTape – “less is more”. Applying RockTape with less stretch should be trialled initially as it is likely to give similar results as stronger amounts of stretch, but with less risk of traction injury to the skin.
Filho, A.M., Machado, R.dS., Cardoso, T.S.P., Costa, M.,dS., Teles, R.H.G., Dutra, Y.M., Queiroz, F.F.dS.N., & Filgueiras, M.,dC., (2015). Kinesio taping reduces cold-induced pain in young healthy individuals independent of the applied tension on the tape. International Archives of Medicine 8, 203, doi: 10.3823/1802.