What’s With that Weird Tape?

If you’re a sports fan like myself, you can’t help notice the increasing presence of an oddly positioned, colored tape being donned by athletes of all sports.  The use of this tape generated much publicity when beach volley ball icons Kerri Walsh and Misty May sported it during their 2008 Olympic gold medal run in Beijing.  Top tennis stars Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, and most recently, NBA superstar and huge proponent of chiropractic, Derrick Rose have been seen taking advantage of the tape’s therapeutic properties.   

Or maybe you’ve noticed someone in the gym or on the streets fashionably accessorizing with the colorful tape.  The point is, it’s out there and more and more people are utilizing it.

But what exactly is it and what does it do?

In most cases, what you are seeing is a form of athletic tape known as kinetic tape.  The tape had its origin as kinesiotape by Dr. Kenzo Kase in the 1970s.  Since then, other brands such as Rock Tape or Strength Tape have followed suit with slight modifications.

While various manufacturers boast their own techniques to the actual taping method, the main purposes of the tape is shared.  Kinetic tape is a form of tape that can provide support and stability without limiting range of motion.  This is a huge deal in that in order for all of us to function optimally, we need to have access to the full range of motion our joints were designed to provide.  This is key for all of us, but is imperative for an athlete.

Another benefit to kinetic taping is that it helps to reduce swelling and inflammation.  Permitting full range of motion allows this by encouraging venous return of blood and the lymphatic system (waste removal), but the tape actually does this in additional ingenuous ways.

The first way the tape does this is by lifting the skin off of the underlying tissue and allowing room for accumulated fluids to exit.  Another way inflammation and swelling is reduced can be facilitated by a distinct taping method in which the tape is cut into individual strips which resemble fingers. When the patient moves, these fingers then lightly squeeze the area of involvement, creating a massaging effect that encourages the removal of stagnant fluids in the area.  This method is quite useful for the acutely injured athlete who is trying to limit the initial swelling.

In addition, properly applied kinetic tape can provide an all natural analgesic or pain-killing effect.  One way this is done is by lessening inflammation in the ways described above.  The chemical mediators of inflammation excite the nerves that transmit pain signals, so anytime we can lessen inflammation, we can also lessen pain.

The second way the perception of pain is dampened by the tape is by closing what is known as the physiological pain gate.

You see, nerves vary in size and speed of transmission, with the bigger, faster nerves overriding the smaller, slower nerves.  Luckily for us, painful stimuli is mainly transmitted by the smaller nerves, while the sensation of touch takes a ride on the larger, faster nerves.  One way to intelligently and naturally lessen pain is to override the signal by stimulating nerves that pick up touch and enter the spinal cord at the same level.

It is this mechanism that serves as the explanation behind why we instinctively shake or rub the finger we just smashed with a hammer.  By doing this you are literally closing the gate on the transmission of the pain.  Unfortunately, as soon as the stimulation by way of rubbing or shaking ceases, the gate re-opens and the pain signals are once again permitted to reach the brain where the perception of pain occurs.

Kinetic tape conveniently comes into play here by providing constant stimulation to the painful area, thus closing the pain gate.  This serves as an extremely practical, temporary fix while we work to fix the underlying cause of the pain.

Neurologically, the tape serves a therapeutic purpose providing feedback from the taped area to our brain.  Aside from pain, when we are injured, feedback from the injured area tends to become inhibited or lessened.  This can lead to further issues as things like balance or proprioception (the sense of where our body or body parts are in space) is largely influenced by feedback from the actual body part.  Kinetic taping provides neurological stimulation to enhance the necessary communication between the central (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral nervous systems.

At Clarke Chiropractic and Wellness we utilize kinetic taping quite frequently when treating athletes and other patients in order to take advantage of the therapeutic benefits described above.  It should be noted that ideally, the tape is used like any other type of therapy; as an adjunct to chiropractic care and temporarily while we correct the underlying issue.  However, many athletes with chronic issues and a schedule or lifestyle that doesn’t always allow adequate rest for healing absolutely love being routinely taped as well.

If you are curious and would like to explore the world of all natural treatments like kinetic taping feel free to call us at anytime.

I’m ready when you are.

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