What Does Kinesiology Tape Do?

Learn about uses, benefits, and types

Kinesiology taping is a treatment option if you've had an injury or illness that leads to mobility and motor function problems. It involves placing strips of special tape on your body in specific directions to help support your joints, like a knee, ankle, or wrist, as well as muscles and tendons.

It can be used to help facilitate muscle function, stabilize joints, or inhibit muscles from contracting improperly. It can also be used to help decrease pain, swelling, and muscle spasm.

Kinesiology tape was developed in the 1970s by Dr. Kenso Kase. He developed many of the techniques used in kinesiology taping today and launched the Kinesio Tape brand of tape.

This article presents information about kinesiology tape and its uses, as well as some of the research findings about it. It also discusses situations when the tape should not be used.

Close up showing a medical treatment of a young woman. A female physiotherapist is taping the neck of a young lady which has got head aches. Kinesiotape is also used for prevention and treatment in competitive sports.
Alexander Klemm / E+ / Getty Images 

What Does Kinesiology Taping Do?

While kinesiology tape seems a lot like elastic athletic tape, there are differences between the two. Among them are that:

  • Kinesiology tape is used to facilitate motion and inhibit pain and spasm, while athletic tape is used for support and to limit motion, typically because of existing pain.
  • Kinesiology tape is a flexible material that moves when you move; athletic tape is relatively inflexible. 
  • Kinesiology tape helps to improve lymph transport and increase circulation. The tight binding nature of athletic tape serves to decrease circulation.
Kinesiology Tape
  • Used to facilitate motion and inhibit pain

  • Flexible

  • Can improve circulation

Athletic Tape
  • Used for support and to limit motion

  • Inflexible

  • Decreases circulation

How Kinesiology Tape Works

Kinesiology tape serves different functions when applied. Before you start using it, your physical therapist will perform an evaluation and assessment to determine the best use of kinesiology tape for your condition. 

They will assess whether the tape is necessary for you or if you have any contraindications to using the tape.

In general, it is thought that kinesiology tape helps to create balance in the neural circuitry in muscles, tendons, joints, and skin. This is thought to work to reduce pain and decrease swelling. It's meant to improve muscle performance and function.

Kinesiology tape is also thought to realign joint positions, and it may also be useful in remodeling collagen tissues such as in scar tissue management.


Click Play to Learn How to Use Kinesiology Tape

This video has been medically reviewed by Casey Gallagher, MD

There are different theories about how kinesiology tape works. First, it is thought to change the proprioception input of the sensory nervous system in the muscles, joints, and skin. This is the sensation that allows you to know where your body is in space (say, how high your arm is raised). 

The tape is thought to improve the interaction between the skin and the underlying structures to help reset the circuitry of this part of the nervous system, resulting in improved muscular activation and performance.

Kinesiology tape is also thought to inhibit nociceptors (pain pathways) in your muscles, skin, and joint structures. Decreasing painful input to the brain is thought to normalize muscle tone, resulting in decreased pain and muscular spasm.

Types of Kinesiology Tape

Kinesiology tape can be applied in different ways, depending on why it's needed. Your physical therapist can show you how to use the tape and cut the adhesive strips into the right configuration.

Some of the taping types include:

  • The "I" strip: This shape can be used to make the other types of strips below. Typically "I" strips are used to support muscles, tendons, and ligaments. They are often used to facilitate your rotator cuff, gluteus muscles, quadriceps, or Achilles' tendon. It can also be used on your low back and middle back to help you maintain proper posture.
  • The "X" strip: This type is used when kinesiology tape is needed to cover a large area or cross multiple joints. The tabs of the "X" strip cross over sensitive areas such as the back of your knees or front of your elbows. This strip is commonly used to facilitate your hamstrings, which cross both your hip joint and the back part of your knee joint.
  • The "Y" strip: This strip is used to cross sensitive areas of your body such as behind your knee or in the front of your elbow. It is also commonly used for applications to control the position of your kneecap as in patellofemoral stress syndrome or a subluxing patella. The "Y" strip is typically not as long as the "X" strip.
  • The "fan" strip: This type can help control swelling of your leg or arm. It is commonly used in lymphedema management or for superficial contusions and swelling.
  • The "lift" strip: Commonly referred to as the Band-Aid, this strip is often used to support injured tissues or to treat muscle knots or trigger points. It helps to lift skin and tissues off of sore muscles and trigger points. It is also used to treat superficial bruises.

Your therapist or sports medicine provider can ensure that you're placing the tape in the proper position and that the tape is not too tight or restrictive. They'll also let you know how long to wear the kinesiology tape.

Brands and Where to Buy

There are over 50 different types and brands of kinesiology tape on the market today, such as Kinesio Tape, KT Tape, or RockTape. Some specific tapes are designed for sports performance, and others are designed for lymphedema and swelling management.

According to the Kinesio Tape manufacturer, the tape colors don't represent any chemical or physical differences. They're a matter of personal preference.

Kinesiology tape is available at retail stores and pharmacies, as well as some sporting goods stores. It's also sold online. The cost varies by brand and where you buy it, but some stores have a generic "house" brand that may be more affordable.

Your physical therapist can help you decide which tape is best for your specific condition.

Specific Uses

Kinesiology tape has many specific uses. Your physical therapist can assess your current situation and injury to decide on the best use of the tape. 

Some common uses of kinesiology tape include:

  • Facilitation: Kinesiology tape can be used to help improve muscular firing and contraction patterns. This can lead to normalized muscular tone and can also help improve athletic performance.
  • Inhibition and pain management: Kinesiology tape can be used to help decrease pain and muscle spasms that may occur after injury. It can help decrease nociceptive input to the brain which can help decrease muscle guarding and protective spasms.
  • Support and stability: If you have a condition that requires a specific joint to be held in place, kinesiology taping may be right for you. Conditions like patellofemoral stress syndrome, iliotibial band friction syndrome, or shoulder instability may benefit from extra support provided by kinesiology tape. The tape can support your joint while still allowing for some motion.
  • Swelling management: If you have had swelling from an injury or surgery, kinesiology tape may help decrease the swelling by decreasing pressure between the skin and underlying tissues. This provides a pathway for excess fluids that have accumulated since your injury to travel through. Kinesiology tape is sometimes used in lymphedema management or for superficial contusions.
  • Scar tissue management: After surgery or trauma, you may have a scar over the area that was injured. Sometimes the tissue underneath the scar binds to your skin and underlying fascia. This scar tissue can limit your normal mobility and range of motion. Kinesiology tape can be used to gently pull on scar tissue, providing a low-intensity, long-duration stretch to the tight collagen that makes up scar tissue.

Research on Kinesiology Tape

Much research still needs to be done to understand the mechanisms of how the tape works and if it truly lives up to its claims.

Recent studies have shown that the use of kinesiology tape can improve muscular contractions in the vastus medialis, a specific part of the quadriceps muscle responsible for controlling the position of your kneecap. They've also demonstrated an improved range of motion in the lower back, immediately after the application of kinesiology tape. 

To support the use of kinesiology tape to improve athletic performance, RockTape conducted a study of five cyclists and found that they performed 2% to 6% better with the application of kinesiology tape (specifically RockTape) than without the tape. However, this study may be biased, with RockTape as its sponsor and only five athletes with no control group.

Other studies have examined the effect of kinesiology taping and pain, swelling, and improved mobility, with varied results.

When Should You Not Use Kinesiology Tape?

Some people, including those with open wounds, infections, or skin allergies, should not use kinesiology tape. It's also not recommended if you have health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, deep vein thrombosis, or cancer.

A Word From Verywell

Your physical therapist may use various exercises and modalities to help treat your specific problem. Kinesiology tape may be a part of your treatment. Talk to your provider to learn about the tape and set realistic goals for its use.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does kinesiology tape boost athletic performance?

    Some studies do show that using the tape on injured areas can help reduce pain, but it's unclear whether the pain reduction is significant. There isn’t strong evidence that it enhances performance in healthy athletes, as some have claimed. 

  • Are there drawbacks to using kinesiology tape?

    It’s possible to cause blisters or tears on the skin if you tape an area too tightly. If the tape isn’t applied in the right direction and with the right amount of stretch, it may not be effective. A professional should put the tape on and teach you how.

  • Can you shower when you have kinesiology tape on?

    Yes. The tape should last three to five days on your skin even with showering. 

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Karwacińska J, Kiebzak W, Stepanek-Finda B, et al. Effectiveness of Kinesio Taping on hypertrophic scars, keloids and scar contracturesPolish Annals of Medicine. 2012;19(1):50-57. doi:10.1016/j.poamed.2012.04.010

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  7. Malicka I, Rosseger A, Hanuszkiewicz J, Woźniewski M. Kinesiology Taping reduces lymphedema of the upper extremity in women after breast cancer treatment: a pilot study. Prz Menopauzalny. 2014;13(4):221-6. doi:10.5114/pm.2014.44997

  8. Kinesio. Frequently Asked Questions.

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  10. Choi IR, Lee JH. Effect of kinesiology tape application direction on quadriceps strength. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(24):e11038. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000011038

  11. Lee JH. The short-term effectiveness of balance taping on acute nonspecific low-back pain: A case report. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017;96(51):e9304. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000009304

  12. Van den Dries G, Capobianco S, Brink J. The clinical efficacy of Rocktape in a performance enhancing application.

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Additional Reading
  • Blubaugh M. "Kinesiology taping, manual therapy, and neuromuscular re-activation." Seminar, May, 2014. Albany, NY.

  • Gonzalez-Iglesias J, et al. "Short-term effects of cervical kinesio taping on pain and cervical range of motion in patients with acute whiplash injury: a randomized, controlled trial." JOSPT 39(7), 2009. 515-521.

  • Hyun M, et al. "The effect of Kinesio Tape on lower extremity functional movement screen scores" IJES, 5(3) 2012.

  • MacGregor K, et al. "Cutaneous stimulation from patella tape causes a differential increase invasti muscle activity in people with patellofemoral pain" Journal of Orthopaedic Research March 2005, Vol.23(2):351–358

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.