Taping for treatment

By Megan Storey | December 3, 2020

Have you ever been to the physio for a treatment and left all wrapped up like a mummy? Tape. It’s one of the various tools in our arsenal that we sometimes call upon to help a person in their recovery from injury. But we joke of course – no-one ever leaves us with that much sticky stuff on, that they resemble an Egyptian from the afterlife. Although tape can be a life-saver!

Tape has been used as a treatment tool for decades. There are many different types, each designed to aid the body in some way during the recovery period of an injury (anywhere from the onset of injury to return to sport training or match play). It can be used before, during and after activity. It is widely available, relatively cheap and is an excellent tool to use alongside other forms of treatment, including massage, joint mobilisation, needling and exercise therapy. A physiotherapist may even use it on your body even if you are not injured, in order to reduce the risk of one happening.

The reasons a physio may use tape are:

woman with tape on shoulder
  • To reduce pain
  • To stabilise / support a joint
  • To correct posture and increase awareness of a particular body part
  • To aid in achieving efficient movement of a body part
  • To prevent a joint from moving
  • To reduce the risk of injury or re-injury
  • To increase feedback to the brain of a particular body part
  • To increase confidence in a person looking to return to sport / activity
  • To reduce swelling of a particular body part

Types

There are several different types of tape. Some of the more commonly used types here at Physiotherapy for Women include rigid and kinesiology tape (aka K-tape). Read on to find out a bit more on these types.

Rigid tape

Rigid tape (aka sports or athletic tape) is an inelastic type of tape primarily used to provide stability at a joint. Joints that require stability may be those that move excessively, or where the integrity of the joint has been compromise. Like when you seriously sprain your ankle chasing your children playing tag or when enjoying a social netball match with your girlfriends.  In the ankle sprain a ligament can be overstretched or torn, making basic weight bearing activity such as walking very painful.  To assist the ligament to heal correctly, tape can be applied in a special pattern which provides a rigid barrier to specific movement which could further damage the ligament. The taping may be soon after the ankle injury (this depends on severity) or when your return to moving quickly and/or when you return to quick movements in a family situation or when back on the court. Rigid tape can provide support to the joint and give a person confidence to start using the joint as it should be, without fear of re-injury. This is usually a temporary treatment though as the aim of the physio and the injured person should always be to return to a pre-injury state, if it’s possible. In the unfortunate event that a person’s injury means they cannot return to a 100% pre-injured state and perform at a high level, tape is a cost-effective way of providing support needed to play, even if at a reduced intensity or level.

Here at Physiotherapy for Women, we are super conscious of what effect tape can have on a person’s skin. Some people are sensitive to the adhesive or glue that is used on the sticky side. And sometimes tape needs to be in place for many days at a time. For this reason, under-wrap was designed. Under-wrap is applied to the skin first to provide a barrier against the glue of the tape. The rigid tape is then placed over the top where its full effects can still be experienced. Your skin care is a priority of ours, so we always use under-wrap before applying rigid tape to an injured body part. We’ve got your back (or you knee)!

Other examples of injury where rigid tape may be used include knee sprains, pregnancy sacroiliac sprain, shoulder dislocations or ligament sprains, or in the treatment of plantar fasciopathy or a dropped foot arch.

Kinesiology tape (K-tape)

K-tape is an elastic type of tape that has several proposed uses. It molds to the counters of the body well and is designed to promote movement, rather than restrict it. K-tape may be applied to a body part to:

  • Reduce pain and/or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following exercise
  • Increase blood flow to, and drainage of fluid away from the body part
  • Increase awareness of the body part to the patient
  • To guide effective and efficient movement with minimal to no restriction

The increase of awareness of the affected body part is a particularly useful tool for us as physiotherapists when planning our treatments. After an injury, the intimate connection of the body part and the brain can become foggy. The brain may slightly lose its ability to know exactly where the joint is and what it should be doing. It sounds scarier than it is, but with exercise and rehabilitative treatment, this connection can be regained. K-tape is a great way of assisting with this, as the covering of the skin over the injured area provides extra input to the brain about what is going on at the joint(s). It’s complicated, but pretty cool huh?!

Another fantastic quality of K-tape following injury is its ability to assist the body in ridding fluid or swelling around an injury joint or muscle. The tape is applied in a special way which lifts the top layers of skin away from the underlying muscle to allow for greater flow of fluid… It can speed up the whole process considerably!

Ready for your dressing now?!

It depends completely on the type of injury and where you are in the recovery process as to which type of tape we choose to use on you. We will always discuss with you the benefits of tape so you can make an informed decision with us for your treatment and plan going forward. And don’t worry, we will avoid turning you into a mummy (often less is more with taping).  If you are worried about skin reactions we can trial small patches of several different tapes on your skin before doing a big taping of a body area.

If you’re keen to learn more, or find out if tape can benefit your recovery, just ask next time you are in for a treatment with us.