Tape It Up

Kinesio taping facilitates movement, while offering support

By Karrie Osborn

There are a wide variety of gadgets and gizmos that massage therapists have at their fingertips, all meant to facilitate the bodywork experience they offer clients. But few tools promise to keep the massage therapist’s hands working, even days after the session is over. Kinesio taping, proponents say, can do just that.

From Drawing Board to Olympic Standout

Most massage therapists (and much of the rest of the world) first heard of Kinesio taping during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing when U.S. women’s beach volleyball standout Kerri Walsh showed up to play wearing a strangely designed web of tape on her right shoulder. In that moment, Kinesio taping was given recognition on the world’s stage, as everyone wanted to know more about that mysterious “tattoo” Walsh was sporting. When NBC’s Today Show explained the tape and its function, the company distributing the product—Kinesio USA—was bombarded with inquiries and had 1,600 immediate online orders waiting for fulfillment, up from 250 orders a month just days earlier. During the height of Walsh and teammate Misty May-Treanor’s Olympic gold-medal moments, the Kinesio website went from 800 to 54,000 hits a day.

It’s not that Kinesio taping was new to the world. In fact, Kinesio taping was developed more than 25 years ago by Dr. Kenzo Kase, a U.S.-trained Japanese chiropractor intrigued with the use of kinesiology and other less invasive ways of treating soft-tissue injuries. First-class athletes including Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, and Serena Williams had publicly used and endorsed the tape years before. But its use had been a more discrete affair compared to the Olympic venue, and instead showed up most often in medical, chiropractic, and physical therapy offices across the country.

According to John Jarvis, director of the Kinesio Taping Association (a subsidiary of Kinesio USA), Kinesio taping has been in the United States for 10 years, but has only been marketed to therapeutic practitioners the past six. Jarvis says Kinesio taping initially struggled to find its market. “We first went after the athletic market, but we got almost nothing,” he says of the response. The reason? “The technique itself is almost backward to what they’re using,” he says. Where traditional athletic tape offers a strapping, immobilization process, the flexible, water-resistant, latex-free Kinesio Tex Tape encourages movement and the channeling of fluids and can be left on the skin for up to five days.

Even though athletic trainers didn’t initially warm to the product, physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs) began using the tape for rehabilitative purposes. “They liked the results and within a couple of years, they were our primary market,” Jarvis says. Massage therapists were soon to follow, after the Kinesio organization first went through a two-year process ensuring the taping protocol fit within an MT’s scope of practice and then sought out leaders in the sports massage community to facilitate the way. “It really made sense to start going after that MT,” Jarvis says. “We knew we had to go and find people that could help us introduce it within that market.”

Tape Trendsetters

Sports massage therapist Benny Vaughn was one of the first from that early group of MTs to try the product. With 35 years in the profession and an extensive background working with track and field athletes, Vaughn says Kinesio taping can enrich the desired therapeutic neuro-sensory response that the massage therapist or bodyworker initiates.

“Whether you’re doing structural integration, myofascial release, neuromuscular therapy, or Swedish, Kinesio will enhance the effects of your hands-on work,” Vaughn says. This sports massage veteran, who worked with the U.S. Track & Field team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, says it’s all about pressure and surface tension. “It’s a surface stimulus,” he says. “[Kinesio] utilizes the neuro-sensory and proprioceptive system of the body in the same fashion that massage and all touch therapies do. Kinesio taping promotes controlled and predictable ‘touch’ stimuli to the skin.”

Vaughn, who owns Texas Athletic Therapy in Fort Worth, Texas, says almost half of his office clientele receive Kinesio taping as part of their session care. “I have found that Kinesio taping can address any orthopedic condition,” he says, adding that massage and taping “work beautifully” together. Whether it’s a soft-tissue condition that interferes with postural balance, a muscle-tendon injury, or fascial adhesion, Vaughn says the hands-on results are accelerated when Kinesio taping is used.

While Vaughn likes to use Kinesio primarily for his office clients, where weekly follow-up can address the changes being made, he does use the Kinesio protocol with his track and field clients who need assistance in their training or competition. “Even though they’re at their absolute top level, occasionally something will come up in training and I will have to use everything at my disposal to get a rapid result. The only time I tend to use [Kinesio Tex Tape] with these clients is if there is some sort of dysfunction or injury.”

Another one of the early MT Kinesio tape trendsetters was Michael McGillicuddy, sports massage therapist and owner of Central Florida School of Massage in Winter Park, Florida.

When McGillicuddy first saw the Kinesio taping protocol, he says an immediate lightbulb went off. “[Kinesio] had so many applications, that as a sports massage therapist, it seemed like a natural thing to include in my treatments.” McGillicuddy, who has been using the tape for almost five years now, says he is always looking for something to further facilitate his clients and their recovery, even after they leave his office. “I’m always looking for products that an MT can incorporate into their practice to enhance treatment for a length of time.” With Kinesio tape, McGillicuddy found clients were feeling the benefits of his massage for days longer than usual. And that’s all it took. “I wanted to use it on everybody I could.”

Simple though it is, McGillicuddy says Kinesio taping should not be underestimated. “It’s just a piece of tape, but it has the potential to do a lot for people.”

How It Works

While they appear the same, Kinesio Tex Tape is far removed from the white athletic tape traditionally stocked in locker rooms and gyms and most often associated with sprained ankles and bum knees. One of the biggest differences is that while athletic tape is meant to immobilize and restrict range of motion, Kinesio tape is designed both to facilitate movement while offering support and to prevent over-contraction, all while allowing the body to heal itself biomechanically.

The tape can be applied either stretched or unstretched to address various conditions. If joints or ligaments are injured and incapable of functioning effectively, the tape should be stretched before placement on the skin, allowing the injured site to rely on the stretch of the tape for correction. When implementing neuromuscular reeducation, the skin, muscles, and joints in the area being addressed must first be stretched as unstretched tape is applied. When the skin and muscles revert to their normal position, the tape actually lifts the skin, thereby increasing the subcutaneous flow of blood and lymphatic fluid, allowing for neuromuscular reeducation as the body provides constant feedback via the tape. The tape also relieves pain as pressure is taken off the neural and sensory receptors. This Kinesio protocol is typically used for acute conditions, including strains, sprains, muscle spasms, and edema.

“Technically what we’re doing with our tape is what MTs are doing with their hands,” Jarvis says. “It was an MT who brought us the phrase that ‘anything you can do with your hands, you can technically mimic with the tape. It can reinforce what you do.” Jarvis says massage is one of the therapies out there that is most understanding of the Kinesio concept and what value the tape can offer clients.

McGillicuddy says Kinesio taping can also act as a reminder for proper body positioning. For example, he says, consider the client who has a forward head posture and rounded shoulders. “You can tape them so they have a constant reminder from their skin to hold their head in a better position. So it can improve posture. There’s an application to improve lymphatics—bruising and edema. You can also use the tape to strengthen muscle contraction.” The mobilization of scar tissue, improved circulation, and speedier recovery times during physical therapy are other ways Kinesio taping can benefit clients. And Vaughn says the tape can be an “excellent method of home healthcare compliance that can continue to stimulate the response of fascia and the nervous system.”

Not For Every Therapist

While seemingly simplistic in nature, Jarvis says the Kinesio taping protocol is not for every MT out there. “It’s definitely going after a niche massage therapy market.” He says sports massage therapists and those working with lymphedema and sports massage therapists are the two largest segments of the massage and bodywork profession using the tape today. “We are going after a very specific population because it’s not your everyday spa product.” Still, with the taping facilitating proper biomechanical function and lymph movement, Jarvis says Kinesio taping is “something any MT can use within their scope of practice.”

Sue Dougherty in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, says she schedules many massage sessions that are strictly Kinesio taping. Working in a health center with eight doctors and four nurse practitioners has helped Dougherty strengthen her recently honed taping skills as she has a constant flow of referral clients from the staff. “I get a lot of people with chronic pain in their neck, shoulders, and lower back.” They like how it feels and they like that it adds support, increases movement, and decreases pain. “A lot of my patients request it and the doctors love the feedback they’re getting, too.”

Can any MT pick this up and start using it right away? “Not by any stretch of the imagination,” Vaughn says. “You need to take the authorized Kinesio taping courses. The testing is very precise and each course is several days.” He says there are three pieces to learning and mastering Kinesio work. “You learn how to get the proper tension for the proper condition. That’s where people have the biggest challenges—figuring out what’s 10 percent tension, what’s 5 percent tension. That takes a lot of work and study to get that down.” He says the second piece is cutting the tape correctly. Cutting in specific ways creates various shapes designed to get different results. An “X” strip will solicit a varied response from a “Y” strip. And an “I” strip will do something altogether different. Vaughn, who calls the process “therapeutic origami,” says you have to be able to cut the tape properly to get the proper shape to create the proper tension. “The third part, the placement of the tape, must be done well in order to create the overall response. One’s understanding of anatomy and myofascial anatomy must be acute. You must have a very good understanding of functional anatomy, because otherwise you can’t get the ultimate benefit.”

Client Care

While there are few contraindications for Kinesio taping, its “mechanical” effects should be avoided by some. “I would think that if someone has congestive heart failure and swelling in their lower extremities, it’s not good to pump blood up into the heart,” says McGillicuddy, who’s been using the tape for nearly five years. While there is no medicine within the tape and no latex, McGillicuddy says every now and then clients have a reaction to the adhesive. Practitioners with elderly clients need to be especially careful of their tender skin so that it doesn’t rip when removing the tape.

Abby Kuchta, owner of Massage in the Comfort of Your Home, says she’s not been able to use the tape to address her elderly clients’ long-term problems, but she has been able to use the tape for their neuropathy—as it helps clients know where their feet are—and lymph drainage for folks with edema. Kuchta, whose practice is based in Milwaukee, says she’s also used the tape for everything from bursitis and bunions to Parkinson’s disease. “I have a client with severe Parkinson’s whose head drops forward; she has no strength in her neck muscles. I was able to tape her so that her head was erect. It took strain off her muscles and allowed the muscles in front—which had been shortened for so long—to stretch. It gave her relief from pain and it gave her the self-confidence to go out again.”

Even though some clients are better suited for the Kinesio taping protocol than others, Vaughn says the contraindications are few and far between. His protocol is also simple: “I wouldn’t use it on any condition that I couldn’t do hands-on work with. It’s really that simple—simple, but very precise.”

Proving Itself in Research

Supplementing the staggering growth of this simple tool is a growing body of research around the Kinesio taping protocol and other similar taping strategies.

Jarvis says one of the most exciting areas of research is in the pediatric arena, which is also the largest and fastest growing segment within the OT and PT markets. When Jarvis first came on board with Kinesio, he says it was the research being done on children and the prospect of helping them live more functional lives that solidified his faith in the product.

From oral motor control to improved neuromuscular function, research is showing great benefit for children utilizing taping procedures, according to Jarvis.

• A study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that children with musculoskeletal weakness of the hand or central nervous system dysfunction show great improvement after having their hands taped. Taping for palmer stability, researchers say, eliminates the “mass grasp” response from children and provides the proprioceptive input of stabilizing and facilitating fine finger movements.1

• A 2003 study from Trish Martin and Audrey Yasukawa found that Kinesio taping can help children with neurological disorders, developmental delay, and dysarthria improve their ability to fully close their mouth, resulting in better articulation, TMJ stabilization, and decreased drooling. Taping trials at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation found great improvement for children involved in the study, whether as a result of sensory change or as greater facilitation of the orbicularis oris.2

• At the Potential Development Support Center in Hokkaido, Japan, researcher Maruko Kayoko combined traditional aquatic therapies with taping protocols to improve neurological impairment in children. Kayoko says that during his clinical treatments, he’s seen the taping method assist patients with muscle imbalance by stimulating weak muscles and relaxing overused muscles. He also reports that the tape can be a correctional tool, addressing postural, positional, and joint function, as well as a method of pain relief.3

enhance response

As research continues to prove its benefits, and more clients increasingly turn into converts, Vaughn sees Kinesio taping as a tool every MT should consider. “I think that the modern massage therapist should have not only good orthopedic assessment skills, but should enhance their hands-on skills with knowledge and modality skills that can include Kinesio taping,” he says. “It is a form of sensory stimulation on the skin, not unlike massage and bodywork in its most basic neurophysiology. Any massage therapist who is interested in the challenge of specific orthopedic complaints, including headaches, tight muscles, as well as soft-tissue injury, can include Kinesio taping into their overall protocols of care and can expect positive results.” Ultimately, he says, Kinesio taping will enhance the therapeutic neuro-sensory response of the massage therapist’s goals for his or her client.

 Karrie Osborn is contributing editor for Massage & Bodywork magazine.


1. Charles Long et al., “Intrinsic-Extrinsic Muscle Control of the Hand in Power Grip and Precision Handling,” The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery 52–A (1970): 853–867.

2. P. Martin, “Use of Kinesio Tape in Pediatrics to Improve Oral Motor Control,” in 18th Annual Kinesio Taping International Symposium Review (Tokyo: Kinesio Taping Association, 2003).

3. K. Maruko, “Kinesio Taping with Aqua Therapy for Pediatric Disability Involving Neurological Impairment,” in 15th Annual Kinesio Taping International Symposium Review (Tokyo: Kinesio Taping Association, 1999), 70–73.