It was the summer Olympics that brought Kinesio tape (aka K-tape)—most famously worn by U.S. women’s beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh during the 2008 Beijing Olympics—into the limelight. What were those bright, colorful stripes criss-crossing the athlete’s legs?
Kinesio tape, although just recently popular, has been around for over a decade. According to the site Kinesio Taping, “Dr. Kenzo Kase developed the Kinesio Taping Method in the 1970s to fill a void in the treatment options that were available at that time. He was searching for a way to facilitate the body’s natural healing process and prolong the benefits of his treatment after his patients left his clinic.” It’s still used the same way today—as a way to relieve pain, prevent injury, and promote healing.
Another way to relieve pain and prevent injury is with stretching. Aaptiv has lower body stretching classes that focus on all the muscles runners use the most.
What Is Kinesio Tape?
Made from 100-percent cotton, the latex-free tape is flexible and comfortable enough to wear for days. “This tape moves with the body, so the biomechanics are still there,” said John Jarvis, director of Kinesio USA.
You’ll get the best result with correct taping methods:
- The area taped must be clean, dry, and free of oils or lotion. Otherwise, the tape won’t stick to your skin. If you’re very hairy, you’ll need to shave the area to be taped, or the tape won’t stick.
- Put the muscle or area taped into a position of stretch before taping.
- Lay down the ends of the tape with no tension.
- Once the tape is applied, rub the tape with the palm of your hand to activate the adhesive.
- Wait 30 minutes after applying the tape to exercise, or it might come off.
- Don’t go out in the cold immediately after applying tape, or it won’t adhere.
- Don’t shower or swim within an hour of taping. After an hour the tape can get wet and will stay on.
How Does Kinesio Tape Benefit Runners?
Like other athletes, runners can use Kinesio tape for prevention and recovery; more specifically: pain relief, alignment, and structural support. Although there hasn’t been enough medical research to confirm K-tape’s benefits, the thought is, when applied correctly, K-tape lifts the skin to create a small space between the muscle and connective tissue increasing blood flow and lymphatic drainage.
One that has been proven to work for injury prevention? Stretching before and after running. Check out the pre- and post-workout stretches on Aaptiv.
Creating that space takes pressure off swelling joints and allows for effective muscle movement, both of which are of utmost importance to runners.
“I see this with a lot of athletes: you’re training for something, building up those miles, and right before your taper, you start to feel pain. That’s a good time to use K-tape. Get through the race, then figure out what’s going on,” says Dr. Donald Levin, a Chiropractor, NSCA-certified personal trainer, and triathlete at Austin Sports Therapy. “It can keep [runners] going.”
Using Kinesio Tape For Prevention
Knowing how to apply Kinesio tape is key. Applied improperly, it won’t really help, and it might not even stay on. You can find a helpful series of videos here. Each one details how to correctly tape the most common running injuries. Taping for every injury isn’t necessary, but if you’ve had problems with say rolling your ankle or an occasionally troublesome knee, tape for that.
“It works great for runners with flat feet, as arch support,” says Levin. “The patella is another good one that K-tape works well for if you need structural support.”
Even if you’re using K-tape for prevention, it can be helpful to talk to a physical therapist about your taping methods and areas. “I don’t have people rely on this all the time. Use it for the least amount of time possible” says Levin. If you’re relying on K-tape regularly, it’s time to see a doctor.
Kinesio Tape for Injury Recovery
When you’re dealing with an injury, it’s always best to seek out the opinion of a medical professional, be it a physical therapist, chiropractor, or MD. Likewise, be wary of a doctor whose first and only treatment is Kinesio tape. Use K-tape as one of several components in a recovery program. It is a tool, not a cure.
“Kinesio tape should not be the first step, and when you’re dealing with injury, you need to get a proper diagnosis. K-tape can just mask the issue,” says Levin. “If your pain is consistent, alters your training program or mechanics, or bothers you during daily activity—get it looked at.”
Your doctor should be able to figure out where and why your issues are stemming from, thus ensuring your K-tape application is beneficial. (Injuries aren’t always as they appear: I went to a physical therapist with left knee pain; it turned out, poor alignment and weakness in my right leg was causing the issue.)
During recovery, use K-tape like a support system for your body. While you build your muscles back up, the tape can help hold your joints in proper alignment and help facilitate blood flow, which is essential to quick healing.
Jarvis asserts that Kinesio Tape speeds recovery from almost any injury. “We have [more than] 1,200 recognized applications for either neuromuscular or neuro skeletal conditions throughout the body,” he says. “From plantar fasciitis to low back spasms, hamstring pulls to quad injuries, we can probably tape it up, [and you’ll be] able to go out and perform at the exact same level.”
Again, double check with your doctor to make sure you’re taping correctly. Kinesio tape is a fantastic, cost-effective addition to your prevention or recovery program—and it looks cool—but it needs to be used appropriately.
“Using it every day is wrong, and you need to know why and how you’re using it. You can’t rely on it forever,” says Levin. “I like to use it with clients because I get instant feedback, but it’s just a tool in the toolbox.”
The most important tool is proper form. Aaptiv has running classes for people at every level so you run how to run with the right form and muscle engagements.