How Kinesiology Tape Is Used in Physical Therapy

Kinesiology taping is a therapeutic option that your physical therapist may use if you've had an injury or illness that has caused problems with your mobility and motor function. It involves placing strips of special tape on your body in specific directions to help improve your mobility and support your joints, muscles, and tendons.

Kinesiology tape was developed in the 1970s by a chiropractor named Dr. Kenso Kase, DC. He found that using a flexible tape that harnessed the interface between the skin and the muscles could provide long-lasting effects for his patients. He developed many of the techniques used in kinesiology taping today, and he also has his own brand of tape called Kinesiotape.

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 

Is Kinesiology Tape Just Fancy Athletic Tape?

While kinesiology tape seems a lot like athletic tape, there are many differences between the two. 

  • Kinesiology tape is used to facilitate motion and inhibit pain and spasm, and athletic tape is used for support and to limit motion.
  • 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

What It Does

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, decrease swelling, and 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.

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Click Play to Learn How to Use Kinesiology Tape

This video has been medically reviewed by Casey Gallagher, MD

Theories About How it Works

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. 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 and Brands

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

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

Specific Uses

There are many different uses for kinesiology tape. Your physical therapist can assess your current situation and injury to decide on the best use of the tape. They can also teach you how to cut the basic types of strips to use for your condition. 

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.

Does Kinesiology Tape Really Work?

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.

One study demonstrated an improved low back range of motion immediately after the application of kinesiology tape. Another study showed short-term improvements in neck pain and cervical motion in patients with whiplash injuries who used kinesiology tape.

To support the use of kinesiology tape to improve athletic performance, RockTape conducted a study of 5 cyclists and found that they performed 2-6% better with the application of kinesiology tape (specifically RockTape) than without the tape. Of course, the study is loaded with bias, as it was sponsored by RockTape, consisted of only 5 athletes, and there was no control group.

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

The bottom line: the jury is still out on kinesiology taping, and more work needs to be done.

A Word From Verywell

Your physical therapist may use various exercises and modalities to help treat your specific problem. If you have an injury that results in pain, swelling, loss of motion, or muscle spasm your physical therapist may recommend using kinesiology tape to help treat your problem. They should teach you about the tape and help you set realistic goals and expectations regarding its use.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does kinesiology tape work?

    Some studies do show that using the tap on injured areas can help reduce pain, but it's unclear whether the pain reduction is significant. There isn’t strong evidence that kinesiology tape 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.

  • Can you shower when you have kinesiology tape on?

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

11 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.
  1. 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

  2. Kim BJ, Lee JH, Kim CT, Lee SM. Effects of ankle balance taping with kinesiology tape for a patient with chronic ankle instability. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015;27(7):2405-6. doi:10.1589/jpts.27.2405

  3. Wu WT, Hong CZ, Chou LW. The Kinesio Taping Method for Myofascial Pain Control. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:950519. doi:10.1155/2015/950519

  4. Villafañe JH, Langford D, Alguacil-Diego IM, Fernández-Carnero J. Management of trapeziometacarpal osteoarthritis pain and dysfunction using mobilization with movement technique in combination with kinesiology tape: a case report. J Chiropr Med. 2013;12(2):79-86. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2013.06.001

  5. 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

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

  7. 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

  8. Saavedra-Hernández M, Castro-Sánchez AM, Arroyo-Morales M, Cleland JA, Lara-Palomo IC, Fernández-de-las-Peñas C. Short-term effects of kinesio taping versus cervical thrust manipulation in patients with mechanical neck pain: a randomized clinical trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012;42(8):724-30. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.4086

  9. Van den Dries G, Capobianco S, Brink J. The Clinical Efficacy of Rocktape in a Performance Enhancing Application.

  10. Lee K, Yi CW, Lee S. The effects of kinesiology taping therapy on degenerative knee arthritis patients' pain, function, and joint range of motion. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016;28(1):63-6. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.63 

  11. Montalvo AM, Cara EL, Myer GD. Effect of kinesiology taping on pain in individuals with musculoskeletal injuries: systematic review and meta-analysis. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. 2014;42(2):48-57. doi:psm.2014.05.2057

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