A recent study by Macedo et al has shown improvements in pain levels and a reduction in a disability measure in those with chronic low back pain following one application of kinesiology tape!  This study included 108 females between the ages of 18 and 50, who had “chronic, non-specific low back pain” for greater than three months.  The study demonstrated a significant reduction in pain and disability scores when the women were re-tested after wearing two strips of tape over their low back region for three days- one on each side of the spine.  This improvement occurred whether the tape was applied “correctly” (with a small amount of tape tension whilst the subject flexed forward), or if it was applied with the patients in an upright position, without any tape tension (what we would call a “postural application” or one for cueing).  The reduction in pain did not occur in the control group (no intervention) or to a significant level in the group that had “Micropore” applied- a non stretchy tape.

Of the three groups that received tape interventions, the kinesiology tape applied “correctly”, the kinesiology tape applied in neutral and the micropore group, there was some reduction in pain levels reported in all three groups, compared with very little change in the control group.  This may indicate that any novel sensory input may be helpful in reducing pain in chronic low back conditions.  However, only the two kinesiology tape groups had a reduction in pain on VAS of more than 2/10, which is often used as the benchmark of a “clinically important difference”.

In terms of reductions in disability, the study used the “Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire” as the measure.  Once again, all tape groups showed some change, but only the kinesiology tape groups had a clinically meaningful change of more than 30% after 3 days, and the group with “correctly” applied tape maintained their improvement in disability scores at 10 days as well.

The study also looked at measures of range of movement of the low back, EMG activity of the lumbar erector spinae muscles and strength of these muscles in an extension task.  There were no significant changes in these measures between the groups.

The findings of this study are not dissimilar to the findings of Parreira et al (2014).  This group also found a reduction in pain and disability in a population with chronic low back pain after 4 weeks of kinesiology taping, regardless of whether the tape was applied “correctly” or in neutral- a similar methodology to the current study.  The Parreira study did not include a control group eg without tape.

This current study only looked at females aged between 18-50 years old, so the results may not be generalisable to other populations.

Together, this study and the Parreira one, demonstrate that in those with chronic low back pain, kinesiology tape may provide a reduction in pain and disability in the short term.  Interestingly, both studies demonstrate that in this population, the way the tape is applied may not matter.  However, kinesiology tape may be a useful adjunct to treatment, potentially allowing other interventions such as general exercise and strengthening exercises to be increased, hopefully leading to longer term changes.  Given the increasing reliance on opioids and other medications to try to manage chronic low back pain, a non-invasive, very low risk alternative to pain management such as kinesiology tape would seem like a better place to start!

Macedo, L.d.B., Richards, J., Borges, D.T., Melo, S.A. & Brasileiro, J.S., (2019). Kinesio taping reduces pain and improves disability in low back pain patients: a randomised controlled trial. Physiotherapy 105, p65-75

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, p90-96.