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A really interesting MRI study was recently conducted by two Turkish investigators looking at the effects of kinesiology taping both locally in the area taped, and also in adjacent tissues.  The rationale for looking at adjacent tissues was based on the proposal of myofascial continuities existing within the body.

The researchers recruited 5 healthy female subjects, aged in their 20’s.  They did a pre-tape MRI of the lower limb with the ankle in a fixed neutral position.  They then taped the tibialis anterior with moderate tape tension (50% stretch), and then 30 minutes later repeated the MRI scan, using laser markers to ensure repeatability of the subject’s position within the scanner.  The images from the same subjects (pre and post tape) were then overlaid on each other in order to measure any changes in the tissues, and analysed according to “Demons algorithm”, a previously validated method for this kind of analysis.

To analyse the tissues, the researchers divided the lower leg into three zones: the first was the skin surface to tibialis anterior surface (superficial), the second was the tibialis anterior muscle itself, and the third was the rest of the muscles of the lower limb including gastrocnemius and soleus.  The first two zones together were considered the “target tissue” with the third zone considered the “non target tissue”.

After the kinesiology tape application, “mean peak tissue strains” were significantly higher in both the target and non target tissue.  Skin convolutions were evident and the tibialis anterior showed heterogenous changes, with a random mix of shortened areas and lengthened areas.  The non-target tissues also showed “sizeable heterogenous deformations”, with “inter-subject variability being notable”.  Additionally the researchers found that in the local tissues, the deformations created were not related to the direction of taping, further debunking the myth that the direction of application of the tape is important.

So what does this all mean?

The study confirms that convolutions in the superficial tissues are formed.  The authors state that free nerve endings in this region are sensitive to stretch loads, and these convolutions may result in an alteration of afferent input/pain inhibition.  In the tibialis anterior, there were sizeable but mixed mechanical effects shown.  The authors cite previous research that muscle spindles are considered to act as “misalignment sensors” or local sensors of heterogenous tissue strain.  This mixed mechanical finding could increase or decrease the mechanoreceptor stimuli at different parts within the muscle.  The net effect on the muscle overall would depend on the result of this input to the brain and the resultant output, and as such the net effect is not easily predicted prior to tape application.

The deformations created in the non target tissues could demonstrate the ability of kinesiology taping to have a mechanical interaction with muscles adjacent to, or deep to the target muscle.  This may have a role in “neuro-mechanical coupling” within the entire limb.  That is, having an effect on adjacent muscles and quite possibly influencing the entire kinetic chain.  The magnitude of effect on the non-target tissue lessened as measurements were made further away from the tape application.

There are several limitations of this study.  Firstly it is done on healthy individuals looking at a completely passive situation.  The findings could be very different in symptomatic individuals or with muscle activity.  Also the ideal amount of stretch to be applied to the tape remains unknown.  However it is an excellent starting point.  The findings of the paper are extremely interesting in demonstrating the physiological effects of taping via MRI imaging.  Hopefully it serves as a catalyst for future imaging studies with larger subject numbers and potentially those with symptoms, and may lead to a better knowledge of the true physiological effects that kinesiology tape can have on the tissues.

Pamuk, U., & Yucesoy, C.A., (2015) MRI analyses show that kinesio taping affects much more than just the targeted superficial tissues and causes heterogenous deformations within the whole limb. Journal of Biomechanics