Kinesio Taping looks so cool, but is it effective?

I imagine that you have seen regular people and athletes with colourful tape stuck to their skin. It is called Kinesio Tape. This therapeutic tape was developed by a Japanese chiropractor named Kenso Kaze. As I am a curious researcher and clinician, the colourful tape attracted my attention, and I found out that Kinesio Tape is supposed to achieve nearly anything, from treating haematomas to back pain, from enhancing performance in athletes to improving motor control in kids with Down Syndrome, and recently I found out that Kinesio taping can even improve performance in horses and flamingos! How cool is that? Obviously this seems too good to be true. How can a simple elastic tape improve different symptoms for a range of conditions?

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Mario Balotelli and kinesio tape

According to the creators of this technique, the Kinesio Tape should be applied in a way that lifts the skin. This would improve blood circulation, reduce pain and change activation of muscles (you can see this official kinesiotaping video for more details). To the best of my knowledge, none of these ideas has ever been tested and published in peer-reviewed journals. “But who cares? Patients love it, and at the end of the day, that is what matters, right?” (I heard this said by a famous American Kinesio Taping guru earlier this year).

Interestingly, I found many randomised controlled trials, and decided to do a systematic review on the effects of Kinesio Taping in patients with musculoskeletal conditions[1]. We identified twelve randomised controlled trials (pooled sample: 495 patients) with a range of conditions (shoulder pain, knee pain, back pain, neck pain, plantar fasciitis and mixed musculoskeletal conditions). These trials used different control groups, such as sham tape, manual therapy, electro-physical agents and exercise. All the eligible trials had small samples and the risk of bias of these trials was, on average, moderate. The results were very consistent: Kinesio Taping was no better than any control group for all conditions tested (we were unable to perform a meta-analysis due to the large clinical heterogeneity). There were very few comparisons that suggested that Kinesio Taping was better than the control groups, and their effect sizes did not reach clinical significance. One incidental finding from our review was that, although the results of these trials were not positive at all, many authors claimed that Kinesio Taping can be used in clinical practice – a claim which is very misleading for clinicians and patients. We concluded that the current evidence does not support the use of this intervention in clinical practice.

In order to be fair to this intervention we stated that larger trials are still needed. On the other hand, to be fair to patients and clinicians, we also think that this is a good time to stop selling this intervention as very effective and to invest time and resources in good studies. Our research team has already finished one large trial in patients with back pain (which has just been published and the results were consistent with the review – free text here)[2,3] and we have just finished recruitment for another trial[4], also in patients with back pain. (All texts are open access and free to read).

About Leo Costa

Leo CostaLeo Costa tried to be a professional tennis player unsuccessfully. He is a physiotherapist and Associate Professor at Universidade Cidade de São Paulo in Brazil. He did his PhD in Australia with Professor Chris Maher at the University of Sydney. His research interests are randomised controlled trials in patients with back pain, systematic reviews and research methodology in general. He also sees patients twice a week. Leo also is one of the bloggers of The ICECReam.

References

[1] Parreira, P., Costa, L., Hespanhol Junior, L., Lopes, A., & Costa, L. (2014). Current evidence does not support the use of Kinesio Taping in clinical practice: a systematic review Journal of Physiotherapy, 60 (1), 31-39 DOI: 10.1016/j.jphys.2013.12.00 Free text here

[2] Parreira, P., Costa, L., Takahashi, R., Junior, L., Junior, M., Silva, T., & Costa, L. (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 (2) DOI: 10.1016/j.jphys.2014.05.003 Free text here

[3] Silva Parreira, P., Menezes Costa, L., Takahashi, R., Hespanhol Junior, L., Motta Silva, T., da Luz Junior, M., & Pena Costa, L. (2013). Do convolutions in Kinesio Taping matter? Comparison of two Kinesio Taping approaches in patients with chronic non-specific low back pain: protocol of a randomised trial Journal of Physiotherapy, 59 (1) DOI: 10.1016/S1836-9553(13)70147-4. Free text here

[4] Added, M., Costa, L., Fukuda, T., de Freitas, D., Salomão, E., Monteiro, R., & Costa, L. (2013). Efficacy of adding the kinesio taping method to guideline-endorsed conventional physiotherapy in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain: a randomised controlled trial BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 14 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2474-14-301 Free text here