By Mae Nakano

If you have been following professional or amateur sports, such as the Olympics, you may have noticed a surge of colourful tape donned by athletes essentially anywhere possible on their body. While the colour is nothing short of a fashion statement, the composition of the tape is highly beneficial for performance and rehabilitation.

In the athletic world, the tape is informally called KTape. There are also multiple similar brands available under names such as: Kinesio Tape, KT Tape, Rock Tape, Spider Tech, etc. It was first used by a Japanese chiropractor named Dr. Kenzo Kase. Beginning with sumo wrestlers, the tape had its international debut at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 where it received significant attention. Its popularity took off soon after.

What is it made of?

Dr. Kase and his team noted that the tape helped reduce pain, soreness, and inflammation. This is due to the composition of the tape: it is made to mimic human skin— its 140% elasticity compliments movement, and its 100% high-grade hypoallergenic cotton composition increases its breathability so that moisture (such as sweat) can escape. Yet, it is also water resistant and maintains adhesion when wet: through showers, baths, and even swims. Because of these qualities, the tape lasts for longer—up to 5 days— and more comfortably while it works its magic.

 What is it used for?

– Muscle facilitation and inhibition through neuromuscular control

KTape recruits motor units in the muscle it is applied to. A single motor unit is one neuron and the muscle fiber surrounding it. When it is activated, a contraction occurs. Increased motor unit recruitment due to the tape results in increased muscle function around the area where it is applied. This allows normal muscle activity to help stabilize the joint. This differs from zinc oxide/leukotape and traditional athletic tape, which are used for mechanical stability and inhibition of motion. Often, it is used to promote activation of the gluteus muscles. This is important because although they are a large group of muscles, they can become lazy. When these muscles slack off, patients tend to experience IT-band syndrome and/or chronic low back pain.

Meanwhile, the tape also prevents over-contraction of an exhausted muscle. Muscles in the body are regulated by a “contraction failure” mechanism. This ensures that a contraction does not pass a safety threshold, which would result in injury of the muscle or tendon. K Tape can serve as a gentle reminder of the threshold for over-worked muscles. It is often used to inhibit the over-use of upper trapezius muscles, which tighten and tire due to poor or prolonged posture. This is a common pain seen in almost every situation, from office workers and trades workers to athletes, hairdressers, and at-home parents.

The stretchy elastic tape also provides a neurological sensory feedback from the body to brain. There is a tendency for one to rub a sore area for relief. This works because it creates a non-threatening sensory signal for the brain to be distracted from the pain signals.

– Accumulation of body fluid in vessels

KTape is also used for lymphedema, edema, swelling, and tight fascia. Inflammation is the accumulation of body fluids in one area, which results in localized pain. To get rid of the discomfort and swelling, KTape actually lifts the skin off the vessels underneath and relieves pressure. This opening of the vessels gives enough room to flush away the old, stale fluid that is full of metabolites (waste products) present after injury or exercise. This also makes way for enriched blood to promote regeneration and recovery. In an acute ankle sprain, for example, the tape is used to drain the swelling so that active rehabilitation can begin earliest as possible. It is often used for post-surgical lymphedema as well to promote faster recovery.

Traditional white athletic tape is an additional layer on top of the skin. This inhibits not only movement, but also the flow of body fluid. Thus, it has an undesirable side effect of adding to the original inflammation. Therefore, the white tape’s sole purpose is to add joint stabilization and support only during an event. It restricts the joint into a tiny portion of its range of motion.