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Could tape help you after injury?

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Five fast facts about taping after injury 

Many injuries around the body can benefit from taping techniques. It is a technique loved by some therapists but loathed by others. The reason for this split is because all too often it is the go-to treatment of choice for every condition, coupled with the fact that sometimes it is the only treatment offered to the patient. When we explore the research base and combine this with expert clinical opinion, it is easy to see that there is little justification for the use of taping techniques in isolation for any condition. The reason for this is because often the tape is there to facilitate normal movements or avoid painful movements as part of the recovery plan but it does not help to heal the injury quicker and it is not capable of fully reducing re-injury risk.

Here are our top five fast facts – Is taping the right choice after an injury?

1) Am I allergic to tape?

There is nothing more annoying and sore than a skin reaction to tape. If you have previously had a reaction to sticky plasters when you’ve applied them, avoid the use of tape. If you are due to do exercise where you might get hot or sweaty, avoid the use of a lot of tape as this can increase the irritation of the skin. If you are unsure, ask for a small sample of the tape to be used and do a skin patch test for 24 hours first, applying it to the skin on your wrist and observing the tape every hour. When tape is applied, ensure you check for redness developing round the tape or itchiness under the edges of the tape.
If this occurs, remove it and discuss with your therapist immediately.

2) What type of tape: Kinesio or McConnell?

There are many different types of tape on the market today. Hundreds of makes have developed their own versions of essentially two different ideas. The first was along the lines of McConnell taping, where firm, inflexible tape is applied to the body. This tape does not have much stretch in it. The other form is Kinesio tape. This tape has much more flexibility and has quite a bit of elastic stretch in it. Advocates for the two different types will tell you there are many and varied effects to be achieved from both. Currently, the literature tells us that McConnell tape can provide some restriction to certain movements for a short period of time when applied. For example, a rugby player may benefit from ankle taping during a game to prevent over-strain of the ankle ligaments as they return to exercise. Kinesio tape has not currently been proven to provide any restriction to movements. It is suggested that it is beneficial in aiding the movement of the different layers within the body, For example, after an injury and the development of scar tissue or swelling the different layers struggle to move efficiently over one another as they should. Kinesio tape is suggested to aid this movement by lifting the skin layer slightly to allow glide of the layers below. This has not yet been demonstrated in the literature. Your therapist will help you make a decision on which technique may be of use to you.

3) What treatment should it be combined with for optimum recovery?

We briefly touched on the suggestion that taping in isolation for an injury makes little sense. This potentially only treats a small part of the bigger picture. What is known from most of the literature that has included taping techniques is that it is an effective adjunct to other active treatments that help to solve the underlying problems limiting recovery. A good example of this is ankle sprains. A very common injury and one that historically taping techniques have been used for frequently. Best practice guidelines and review of the literature has shown that combining taping techniques with balance and control exercises can be effective in improving the pain from ankle sprain and also in reducing the time to recovery. Why this is the case is still up for discussion. One possible explanation is that taping can help to activate the right muscles around the ankle during the exercises. This might not be achieved easily without tape if the patient is in a lot of pain and muscles are inhibited from working ideally.

4) Do you really want to ‘stiffen up’ a joint after injury?

One of the original reasons given to patients for the use of tape was that it helps to ‘stiffen up’ and protect the joint after injury. This was suggested to aid recovery by limiting movements that might cause harm and re-injury. We now know that fundamentally this theory is flawed. There is enough evidence to confidently say any tape is incapable of holding a joint totally still when it is applied and certainly not after 10-15 minutes of activity with it on. It is also interesting to look at the point of ‘stiffening up’ the joint as being useful in recovery. In actual fact it may be that this inhibits good muscle activity and normal muscle control around the joint, it might make muscles ‘lazy’ in the actions and so leave the joint vulnerable to more injury. This is still under review but certainly getting patients back to using their muscles to support and stabilise a joint is the prime goal in our opinion.

5) Taping: Functional and fashionable?

Tape is one of those treatments that will be fashionable even if it hasn’t been proven to be all that useful. When you watch a premier football team come out on to the pitch and one or two are covered in brightly coloured tape that has enabled them to be back to full fitness you wonder about it. When we see it peeping over the tops of the socks of premier league netballers we wonder if it would help us get back to the game we love. We are influenced by what we see around us and tape is a visible and attainable option to most of us. Think carefully about what you are trying to achieve, get your therapist to explain clearly the reasoning for why it may or may not benefit you as an individual and always make sure that it is not the only thing you are doing to aid your recovery. Because the simple fact exists that nothing worth having is that easy to obtain with a bit of sticky tape.

Leanne Plenge
Bristol Manager

Specialist MSK Physiotherapist