It seems like an age-old question by now: “Does kinesiology tape actually work?”
While some believe there’s no evidence, or a placebo effect at best, a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that research does support the use of kinesiology tape to reduce musculoskeletal pain.
Despite several recent systematic reviews and analyses suggesting that kinesiology tape doesn’t provide clinical benefits, the analysis by Singapore researchers Lim and Tay suggests that kinesiology tape can be clinically beneficial. They found that kinesiology tape is as effective as other minimal interventions at reducing musculoskeletal pain.
Why is this kinesiology taping review different than the others?
Their analysis was better than previous kinesiology tape reviews because they analyzed 17 randomized controlled trials (RCT) in a true meta-analysis that pooled each study’s results. The average quality of the included research as assessed by the PEDro scale was 6 out of 10. In addition, Lim and Tay focused only on pain and disability outcomes in chronic (greater than 4 weeks) musculoskeletal pain patients. In contrast, other reviews and analyses that concluded kinesiology tape is not beneficial included non-randomized trials, and sometimes included patients with acute musculoskeletal conditions.
How did they evaluate the studies?
Lim and Tay evaluated studies that compared kinesiology tape with minimal interventions such as no tape, “sham” or placebo tape, or usual care studies where both groups received exercise or general physical therapy. “Other forms of interventions” such as treatments other than kinesiology taping alone were also compared separately. These included studies that compared a group receiving only kinesiology taping to another intervention such as exercise or manual therapy.
Lim and Tay pooled data from 822 patients and converted pain outcome scores to standardized mean differences (to account for different outcomes scores) between the 2 groups. Negative scores (noting a decrease in pain or disability) favored kinesiology tape.
What did they conclude on kinesiology tape’s effectiveness?
The researchers found a significant difference and clinical benefit in favor of kinesiology tape when comparing the standardized mean difference in pain between kinesiology tape and minimal treatment, noting an average effect size ranging from -0.36 to -0.68 (small to moderate beneficial reduction in pain).
Lim and Tay concluded, “Kinesiology tape is superior to minimal interventions for pain relief.” Furthermore, “When used in combination with conventional therapy, kinesiology tape may be effective at reducing pain.”
This suggests that kinesiology tape might be an effective adjunct in rehabilitation as a pain-relieving intervention similar to ice or heat. These findings are consistent with the review by Montalvo et al. (2014), who stated, “Kinesiology tape may be used in conjunction with or in place of more traditional therapies.”
While kinesiology tape may reduce pain, it should not be used as a stand-alone intervention in lieu of other proven therapies for musculoskeletal pain such as manual therapy or exercise. In their article, Lim and Tay concluded, “Existing evidence does not establish the superiority of kinesiology tape to other treatment approaches to reduce pain and disability.”
But wait, there’s more!
Interestingly, however, closer inspection of the data suggests there may be some clinical benefit to reduce disability as well as pain.
While the comparison of studies using kinesiology tape interventions to minimal interventions was statistically insignificant (p=0.05), the confidence interval included effect sizes of 0 to -0.83 with an average effect size of -0.41 (a moderate effect). Therefore, there’s opportunity for a clinical benefit to reduce disability beyond trivial levels.
Obviously reduction in disability requires more active therapy than passive treatments such as kinesiology tape or modalities alone. Although kinesiology tape alone may not significantly reduce disability, it’s safe to use kinesiology tape as part of a program to reduce pain and facilitate exercise or manual therapy.
So, there is benefit to using kinesiology tape in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain to help reduce pain, even after they leave the clinic.
REFERENCE: Lim EC, Tay MG. Kinesio taping in musculoskeletal pain and disability that lasts for more than 4 weeks: is it time to peel off the tape and throw it out with the sweat? A systematic review with meta-analysis focused on pain and also methods of tape application. Br J Sports Med. 2015 Jan 16. pii: bjsports-2014-094151. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-094151. [Epub ahead of print]