What Does KT Tape Do? How Kinesio Tape Works

By: Stephanie Crawford  | 
Close-up of womans hands applying kinesio tape on mature mans back during treatment.
The Kinesio Taping Method gently lifts the layer of skin and attached tissue covering a muscle so that blood and other body fluids can move more freely in and around that muscle. simonkr / Getty Images

Athletes, both professional and recreational, have used many methods to treat sore or injured muscles, from pain pills and topical creams to massage therapy and acupuncture. Treatments have improved as scientists have learned more about how muscles work.

While traditional treatments restricted movement to injured muscles, today, we know that keeping muscles moving and improving circulation reduce pain and speed healing. That science inspired the father of kinesiology taping, Japanese chiropractor Dr. Kenzo Kase. But what does KT tape do?


How Does Kinesio Tape Work?

The Kinesio Taping Method gently lifts the layer of skin and attached tissue covering a muscle so that blood and other body fluids can move more freely in and around that muscle.

Origins of KT Tape

Dr. Kenzo Kase developed this muscle treatment — and the first elastic therapeutic tape, Kinesio Tape — in 1979. He also founded Kinesio, the company behind the product, in the 1980s and formed the Kinesio Taping Association (KTA) in 1984.


Kinesio USA, LLC, began operating in 1994 and is headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico [source: Domrzalski].

In the fourth edition of his book "Illustrated Kinesio Taping," Dr. Kase explains that for the first 10 years of Kinesio Taping history, the method was primarily used alongside other therapies by orthopedists, acupuncturists and chiropractors like him. Kase says a patient with articular disorders affecting the joints was the first to receive treatment using Kinesio Taping [source: Kase].

KT Tape Goes Mainstream

When Japanese athletes, particularly Olympic volleyball players, discovered Kinesio Taping, those colorful strips from Japan started a worldwide buzz. Cyclist Lance Armstrong, famous for seven consecutive Tour de France wins and for coming back strong even after fighting cancer, praised the hot-pink tape in his 2003 book "Every Second Counts" [source: Armstrong].

During the Summer Olympics in 2008, U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Walsh amplified the buzz as people kept asking, "Is that a tattoo on her shoulder?" Walsh was using black kinesiology tape. Walsh later became a spokesperson for KT Tape, a Kinesio competitor.

U.S. women's beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh piqued the public's curiosity while wearing kinesiology tape during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images


The Technology Behind Kinesio Tape

This is not your ordinary athletic tape.

Traditionally, athletes or others with muscle injuries would tape a muscle or joint to restrict motion and prevent further injury. Imagine a strained calf muscle. Old-school taping methods would dictate wrapping tape around the entire lower leg — calf, shin, tibia, fibula and all — almost like a mummy.


While that would prevent further strain by immobilizing the injured muscle, it would also impede circulation and slow down the body's natural healing process. Kinesiology taping takes the opposite approach, using the tape to open up the muscle and allow full movement.

Kinesiology tape is applied on top of an injured or strained area to stabilize it, but care is always taken to ensure that a muscle or tendon is never encircled with a ring of tape.

As you move, the tape, skin and connective tissue (or fascia) over the muscle or tendon also move, pulling slightly away from the muscle and creating space for lymphatic fluid to flow around and cleanse the inflamed tissue.

Functions of Kinesio Taping

Dr. Kase lists the following as the four major functions of Kinesio Taping. These functions drive the technology behind the tape:

  • Supporting the muscle: Proper taping improves the muscle's ability to contract even when it's weakened, reduces a feeling of pain and fatigue, and protects the muscle from cramping, over-extension and over-contraction.
  • Removing congestion to the flow of body fluids: Kinesiology tape improves blood and lymphatic circulation and reduces inflammation and excess chemical buildup in the tissue.
  • Activating the endogenous analgesic system: "Endogenous" refers to something self-originating, and calling something "analgesic" means it can relieve pain in a conscious person. So, this means that the tape must facilitate the body's healing mechanisms, a central focus in chiropractic medicine.
  • Correcting joint problems: The goal is improving range of motion and adjusting misalignments that result from tightened muscles.

Sticking On a Disclaimer

As you read on, note that we're not dispensing medical advice in this article. You should consult your doctor or physical therapist to determine if Kinesio Taping is an appropriate treatment for any muscle or tendon injuries you have. We are not proposing Kinesio Tape as an alternative to physical therapy or other treatment methods.

If you plan on taping yourself, you should also supplement this article with other resources to learn the appropriate taping techniques to address your specific needs.


The Kinesio Taping Method

Achilles tendonitis is often treated with kinesiology tape. Note that the tendon is supported instead of wrapped.

Before you attempt taping, get informed. Even if you're familiar with the muscles you're treating, applying the tape incorrectly could do more harm than good.

1. Get Professional Guidance

Dr. Kase's book contains instructions and thorough illustrations for taping everything from the scalenus anterior in the neck to the flexor hallucis brevis in the foot. Kinesio Taping experts, like athletic trainer Carrie Hendrick, Ph.D., of Asheville, N.C., recommend visiting kinesiotaping.com and finding a Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner (CKTP) in your area.


To become a CKTP, Hendrick trained at two seminars given by the Kinesio Taping Association International (KTAI) and successfully completed an online exam. CKTPs and other experienced taping experts often give talks and demonstrations on taping at health and fitness expos around the world [source: Hendrick].

2. Choose the Right Tape

Next, select your kinesiology tape. Dr. Kase recommends that the elasticity of tape used in Kinesio Taping has a stretch potential between 130 and 140 percent of its original length. The Kinesio brand tape has a certain amount of stretch to it even before you remove the paper backing. Expect a five to 10 percent stretch in Kinesio Tape when you apply it gradually, rolling off the paper as you go.

When shopping for other brands of kinesiology tape, look for similar percentages of potential stretch.

3. Cut the Tape

Prior to placement, you need to cut your tape to the correct length and shape. A straight cut, perpendicular to the length of the tape, creates an "I" strip. Other cuts include "X," "Y" and "fan" shapes.

The instructions for the specific muscle group you're treating indicate the shape you'll need and how to cut it. To measure the proper length, simply hold the tape up to the area you're taping.

4. Prep the Skin and Peel the Tape

When you're ready to make contact, clean the skin of dirt, oils and lotions to maximize adhesion. Then, go back to those instructions for information on how to peel the back off based on the shape of the tape and proper technique for applying it.

One tip is that if you have to peel off the backing all at once, do so slowly to make sure the lightweight strip doesn't fold back on itself.

Another pointer: If you have to stick the tape in a temporary position, don't press or rub the tape at that spot — you'll activate the adhesive and make it difficult to move to its final position.

5. Choose the Tape Direction

Dr. Kase describes the two directions you can apply the tape and the importance of choosing the correct direction:

  • For muscles that are injured or overused, needing relief and healing from pain and tightness, apply the tape with no tension, starting from the tendons that hold the muscle to the bone and extending toward the origin of the muscle.
  • For chronically injured or weakened muscles needing support and full range of motion, apply the tape with light tension, starting from the origin of the muscle and extending toward the tendons that hold the muscle to the bone.

When you've placed the tape in its final position, rub the tape for a few seconds to activate the adhesive and ensure it stays put. After an hour, the adhesive sets and seals, and should be adhered enough to stay put for three to four days through all your daily activities, including exercise and showering.


Benefits and Challenges of Kinesio Tape

One challenge with using kinesiology tape is that you may require assistance taping some areas, like those hard-to-reach places on your back.

We know the purpose of using kinesiology tape is to improve circulation, support muscles and help heal and prevent muscle injury.

Benefits of Kinesio Tape

Its primary benefit over traditional athletic tape is that it allows freedom of movement and flow of body fluids to speed the healing process. We've also learned that kinesiology tape is sweat-proof, so it won't give way in the middle of an intense workout, and it can get wet, so you can wear it in the shower or pool.


Athletic trainer Carrie Hendrick confirms that a kinesiology tape application will last three to five days and that most of the athletes she treats notice a change in the treated area within 24 hours. When she removes the tape, she gives the area a break for a day or two before applying more tape if another treatment is needed [source: Hendrick].

Kinesio brand tape is hypoallergenic and latex-free, so it shouldn't irritate the skin during treatment and is safe for users with latex allergies.

Challenges of Kinesio Tape

Perhaps the biggest challenge in using kinesiology tape is that you can't always use it correctly by yourself. If you're treating muscles in your back, for example, getting the correct tape placement on your own could be difficult, if not impossible.

If the muscles you're treating are difficult to reach, consider getting a kinesiology tape buddy who's willing to learn to help apply the tape properly.

Another important consideration when using kinesiology tape is which brand to choose. Kinesio holds a patent for its manufacturing process and owns the trademarks for the Kinesio brand and Kinesio Taping. Competitors have engineered tape with very similar qualities to Kinesio Tape and claim to offer the same function.

Hendrick prefers the Kinesio brand because it stays on the longest, and she dislikes the pre-cut tapes because it's important to customize the length of tape for the athlete, whether they’re a short gymnast or a tall basketball player [source: Hendrick].


Frequently Answered Questions

How long do you leave Kinesio tape on?
You can leave Kinesio tape on for up to three to four days.

Lots More Information

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