This is probably the most common question that we get asked when we are at events and on our courses. We constantly speak to people who have been taped by their physio and felt the benefits, but don’t really understand how the tape works. The same for those coming across tape for the first time.
As it currently stands, the honest answer is…we don’t 100% know. We can only theorise. As with many sports medicine treatments (such as massage, acupuncture, cupping and taping) there really isn’t the gold standard research for us all to agree exactly what is happening, but the research is developing all the time, and with us so do our theories. Much of what we know about taping is purely from clinical experience of our therapists using the tape in practice and seeing or feeling the results first hand. This is how the majority of the applications we teach have developed too, but we always try to empower those we teach to experiment with new applications and use the basic concepts alongside their imagination to find the best approach. Taping can’t be done as a paint-by-numbers approach.
So back to how it works. Our current theory is most based around the sensory nervous system with the tape providing a positive response to the nervous system which in turn can increase afferent stimulation and reduce pain. Basically, based on the way that we apply the tape (stretch/no stretch) we can send a variety of signals back to the brain warning it of an area of issue or making it more aware of a weaker area. The brain then in turn responds to this stimulus by blocking/reducing the pain or increasing the motor control or muscular response in that area.
There may also be something to be said for the stretch affect on the facial tissue underneath the tape. By stretching the tape we are able to create a small lift on the skin as it recoils, effectively straightening out the tissue beneath the tape and reducing the pressure on the pain and stretch receptors in the skin.
When it comes to Kinesiology Taping, it's not often that you get to see the effects. The only time is it's effect on swelling and bruising. The current theory is that the lifting effect the tape has allows the lymphatic system to work more effectively, clearing swelling and bruising from areas and allowing faster recovery.
The most important thing to understand is that tape certainly has it’s place, and can be a wonderful additional to any persons toolkit but it won’t directly fix an injured structure. It may help the rehab or recovery process, allowing you to train or compete pain free, but it will not fix any underlying issues so should be used responsibility alongside other treatments to ensure a long-lasting response.