What Is Kinesiology Tape?

Woman runs in rain with blue kinesiology tape applied to knee

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What Is Kinesiology Tape?

Used frequently by athletes and workout enthusiasts around the world, kinesiology tape is an elastic, breathable, therapeutic tape that can specifically target sore areas and injured muscles. More specifically, kinesiology is the scientific study of the mechanics of body movements.

John Honerkamp, Founder and CEO of RUN KAMP, added to that definition: “It’s a roll of tape that has an adhesive that has healing properties designed to alleviate pain and give more support to an injured area or an area that has a higher chance of getting injured.”  

You’ve likely seen Olympians and NFL players wrapped up in this, at times, colorful, eye-catching tape, from sore shoulders to aching knees. Athletes and celebrities like Rose Lavelle, Mark Wahlberg, John Cena, and more are spotted leaving gyms and playing fields sporting the tape.

The beginnings of kinesiology tape can be traced to chiropractor and acupuncturist Kenzo Kase who first created his taping method in 1979 to encourage blood flow and injury relief. At times, the tape is referred to as “kinesio tape.”

Studies have shown that kinesiology tape is effective. For example, one 2012 study said that kinesiology tape “significantly improved pain levels and range of motion in patients with acute whiplash-associated disorders of the cervical spine both immediately and 24 hours after injury.”

How to Use Kinesiology Tape

Every kinesiology tape company typically shares extensive instructions on their websites for applying the tape, but generally, you’ll apply cut strips of tape to the affected area before heading out to exercise.

There are a number of different ways to apply the tape, and in some areas of the body, like the calf muscles and shoulder blades, for instance, it can help to layer the tape or apply it in a certain shape. You can also stretch the tape as needed using one end as an anchor attached to the skin.

“You apply it to areas to give more pressure and support to an area that is more likely to have an issue, like a pulled muscle,” Honerkamp explained. “The adhesive also typically has a swelling-reducing agent or agent that helps bring blood flow to the area.”

He recommends using kinesiology tape for any area where you’re experiencing stiffness and soreness, and you want help supporting or warming up that muscle.

“There is little downside to trying this sort of tape,” he added. “It is not too expensive, and you can just remove if it is not working like you want it to or if it is too tight.”  

Kinesiology tape brands often feature how-to videos on their websites, and YouTube is also a great option if you’re looking to tape a specific region.

Benefits of Using Kinesiology Tape

Athletes often sing the praises of kinesiology tape, citing decreased pain and inflammation, increased circulation, supported muscles, and even better performance during workouts and games.

Honerkamp believes that it does indeed support injured muscles (and joints as well), helps warm up parts of the body, and aids in recovery. And although kinesiology tape is often used by elite athletes, anybody who works out or engages in athletic activities can benefit from it.

“I’ve seen athletes put kinesiology tape on ankles to help give more support," he said. "I’ve also seen athletes put tape on tight muscles like the lower back, shoulders, or major muscle groups in the legs like the hamstrings, quads, and calves to help warm up the area for practice or competitions.”

You’ll be glad to know that kinesiology tape is sweat proof and can even be worn during pool workouts. Honerkamp said “The tape typically has a very strong adhesive and is designed to withstand sweat and water. I see a lot of swimmers use this tape.”

But there are some instances where kinesiology tape isn’t a great idea. First of all, don’t apply kinesiology tape to an infected area.

“If for some reason the tape feels too hot, I’d remove it,” Honerkamp advised.

Secondly, broken bones will not be helped with kinesiology tape. That means that bones that are altogether broken or experiencing stress fractures won’t improve with the use of the tape. Kinesiology tape is reserved specifically for muscle-related soreness and injuries.

Recommended Brands

Since kinesiology tape is such an economical option to relieve muscle pain and improve performance, it’s a low-risk item to try for your workouts.

Honerkamp recommends starting out with one roll to see if it works for you before buying multiple rolls. Also, he said that some brands might work better than others for you, so it could be a good idea to try a few brands to discover the best one for you.

Honerkamp also has specific kinesiology tape brands to recommend to those who would like to start wearing it during workouts:

  • KT Tape: A popular brand among runners especially, this kinesiology tape made up of 100% cotton
    and elastic is geared toward those who prefer to wear the tape for several days (it can withstand humidity, sweat, and showers). The company cites lymphatic fluid as a cause for muscle inflammation and swelling, and KT Tape can lift the skin which allows the fluid to move more freely.
  • RockTape: This kinesiology tape brand offers several products that can be used along with its tape, like topical pain reliever you can put on before applying the tape. It can be worn for up to seven days and is said to adhere and stretch extremely well. 
  • TheraBand: In addition to providing fitness products like exercise balls and resistance bands, this company specializes in kinesiology tape. With what's called “XactStretch Technology,” it allows for optimal range of motion and includes indicators, so you’ll know the right amount of stretch to apply.
  • SpiderTech: With their pre-cut kinesiology tape, this brand is touted as one of the easier brands to apply. Their tape is already laid out exactly as it should be applied to ankles, lower backs, calves, elbows, and more and takes the guesswork out of applying kinesiology tape.

A Word From Verywell

While kinesiology tape is widely available and easy to use, it shouldn't be used for injury prevention. Kinesiotape is not a replacement for good form or proper training, and should not be relied upon to prevent injury. In the case of a severe muscle strain or joint sprain this tape should not be applied without the guidance of a medical professional.

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