Carmen Vicedo / EyeEmEven if you don’t know what kinesiology tape is, you’ve definitely seen it in action—whether it’s plastered across the limbs and joints of an NFL player, Olympian, or regular Joe at your local park. It’s meant to help support injured body parts and speed up the healing process for tweaks, pulls, and tendinitis. But how is it supposed to work?
In theory, kinesiology tape is thought to work by being stretched across an injured area in a “fingerprint” or swirly pattern, which helps create a ripple effect on the skin. This effect lifts the skin slightly, allowing more room for blood and lymph flow in between the skin and injured tissue to reduce swelling.
“Kinesiology tape acts as reinforcement for muscle strains, tendinitis, or range-of-motion issues in the joint. It acts as additional support and strength on the skin level since it moves with the body. I think it of it as a very specific brace,” Danny Mackey, head coach of the Brooks Beasts Seattle running club, told us. “[It’s] meant to mimic the properties of skin: it is a flexible yet strong tape that sticks and holds well to skin.”
Dr. Shaw Bronner, director of physical therapy services at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Foundation, uses kinesiology tape for everything from patella-femoral pain syndrome to providing feedback in rehabbing Achilles tendinitis or calf strains.
“Anyone that has a weak muscle, is post-injury, using it preventatively, or has a tendinitis issue should use it,” says Bronner. “I haven’t had an athlete that’s had a negative effect from using it—just some that haven’t seen the same effectiveness as others.”
However, like so many things in this field, the science supporting the usefulness of kinesio tape is inconsistent. One study surmised its effectiveness in rather gloomy terms, with the researchers saying they, “found insufficient evidence to support the use of KT following musculoskeletal injury, although a perceived benefit cannot be discounted.” Meaning, it’s not quite settled how well it actually works, but if you feel like it works for you, go nuts.
It is recommended that if you plan on using kinesiology tape, it shouldn’t be a long-term solution. Mackey adds that if you’re feeling pain above, say, a 3 out of 10 for more than three days, it’s probably time to see a doctor.