Running expert Matt Phillips discusses wearing kinesiology tape during runs
Q: Earlier this year I started running after a long time from exercise. I have worked my way up and can now do my park run but I struggle with knee pain, probably due to my football years when I was young. A friend recommended kinesio tape and showed me how to put it on under my knees and up my legs. It does normally help but I am worried it may just be hiding a problem and that I may be doing myself damage. If the tape helps am I ok to keep running?
Matt says: Many thanks for your email! It comes at an interesting time with one manufacturer of kinesiology tape in the United States recently having a lawsuit filed against them for making false claims on their packaging. They claimed that their tape ‘treated’ specific injuries including carpal tunnel, runner’s knee, tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, ankle sprains, and shin splints. This was a rather large marketing faux-pas as there is (as yet) no scientific evidence to support such claims.
So, you may ask, if there’s no evidence for kinesiology tape, should we stop using it? Well, there isn’t much quality evidence for use of ice, heat or massage either, but like tape they do seem to reduce pain for at least some runners, some of the time. We can’t dismiss the use of these practices simply because decent research has not been done yet, can we?
In the case of kinesiology tape, its use has only really been mainstream since it’s appearance in the 2008 Bejing Olympics (where Kinesio USA donated 50,000 rolls of their tape to 58 countries for use on their elite athletes) and didn’t really boom until after a repeat display of its use in the 2012 Olympics. In other words, we haven’t really had much time to research it yet.
In the absence of evidence, some companies have made the mistake of making bold claims in their marketing, with the case I mention above being a good example. Other companies such as RockTape are devoting a lot of time and money into producing the higher quality research we need, much centred around the positive effects of tape on the nervous system.
What I will say to you is, the tape isn’t going to fix you. Don’t let it masquerade other evidence based practices that could help you put an end to your knee pain, e.g. a look at your training frequency, intensity and duration, strength & conditioning exercises, running form, etc.
There is also a risk for some people that the tape becomes addictive, that you condition your body to be unable to run without it. Tape does not ‘hold runners together’. It cannot physically provide that type of physical support. Like I have said, its benefit is likely to be more subtle and on the level of the nervous system which after all controls the output of both pain and movement.
Ultimately Mike, it sounds like you need to be on some form of program for your knees that involves eventually not needing tape and being confident that your knees are strong enough to allow you to run. Such a program is best put together by a physio/sports therapist who specialises in working with runners. I am all for use of kinesiology tape especially in the early stages of a program, but it has to form part of a comprehensive strategy.
Matt Phillips is a Running Injury Specialist & Video Gait Analyst at StrideUK & Studio57clinic in Sussex. Follow Matt on Twitter: @sportinjurymatt