Elastic therapeutic tape is an elastic cotton strip with an acrylic adhesive that is used with the intent of treating pain and disability from athletic injuries and a variety of other physical disorders. Research suggests that elastic taping may help relieve pain, but not more than other treatment approaches, and there is no evidence that it can reduce disability.
The product is a type of thin, elastic cotton tape that can stretch up to 140% of its original length. As a result, if the tape is applied to a patient on a stretch greater than its normal length, it will "recoil" after being applied and therefore create a pulling force on the skin to which it is has been applied. This elastic property allows much greater range of motion compared to traditional white athletic tape and can also be left on for long periods of time before reapplication.
Designed to mimic human skin, with roughly the same thickness and elastic properties, the tape can be stretched 30–40% in the longitudinal direction. It is a latex free material with acrylic adhesive, which is heat activated. The cotton fibers allow for evaporation and quicker drying leading to longer wear time, up to 4 days. How the tape is claimed to affect the body is dependent on its usage throughout the body and how it is applied: the direction of pull, the shape, and the location; all play a role in its hypothetical function.
There are several theoretical benefits claimed for the tape. One of those is correcting the alignment of weak muscles as well as facilitating joint motion as a result of the tape's recoiling qualities. Additionally, the tape is claimed to lift the skin, increasing the space below it, and increasing blood flow and circulation of lymphatic fluids (swelling). This increase in the interstitial space is said to lead to less pressure on the body's nociceptors, which detect pain, and to stimulate mechanoreceptors, to improve overall joint proprioception.
A 2015 meta analysis found that the taping provided significantly more pain relief than no treatment at all, but was not better than other treatment approaches. The same meta analysis did not find any significant changes in disability as a result of taping. A 2012 journal article from the Journal of Hand Therapy suggests that kinesio tape (KT) might have some effect on lymph drainage. Based on a double blind study, KT may be of some assistance to clinicians in improving pain-free active range of motion immediately after tape application for patients with shoulder pain. Utilization of KT for decreasing pain intensity or disability for young patients with suspected shoulder tendonitis/impingement is not supported. Based on two different studies, kinesio tape showed quicker drainage than manually and better patient compliance. A 2014 meta analysis looked at methodological quality of studies along with overall population effect and suggested that studies deemed of lower methodological quality are more likely to report beneficial effects of elastic therapeutic taping. It also suggested that applying elastic therapeutic tape, "to facilitate muscular contraction has no or only negligible effects on muscle strength". A 2012 meta analysis found that the efficacy of elastic therapeutic tape in pain relief was trivial given that no studies found clinically important results. The tape "may have a small beneficial role in improving strength, range of motion in certain injured cohorts and force sense error compared with other elastic tapes, but further studies are needed to confirm these findings". The same article concluded: "KT had some substantial effects on muscle activity, but it was unclear whether these changes were beneficial or harmful. In conclusion, there was little quality evidence to support the use of KT over other types of elastic taping in the management or prevention of sports injuries"
Some researchers claim that what athletes are experiencing is a placebo effect.
The tape is applied with the affected muscle in a stretched position, taping from the origin of the muscle to the insertion point. Once applied, it is rubbed to activate the pressure-sensitive adhesive.
Application is in three general shapes or techniques. An "I" shape is used for small or linear places, for example an I-shaped piece of tape will be applied to the teres minor or rhomboid minor. A "Y" shape is used for larger muscles, like the deltoid. The "X" shape is used for large and long muscles, such as the biceps femoris.
A surge in popularity resulted after the product was donated to Olympic athletes in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and 2012 Summer Olympics.