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How Does Kinesiology Tape Work?

TL;DR: Kinesiology tape is more than just colorful gym fashion; it’s a flexible therapeutic tape that mimics skin elasticity and offers various benefits during workouts and recovery. Invented in the 1970s, it’s become a staple in injury prevention and management. The tape’s elasticity, heat-activated adhesive, and application techniques help lift the skin, improve blood flow, reduce swelling, and support muscles. Proper application is essential for effectiveness, and consulting with professionals can ensure you use it correctly for your specific needs.

If you regularly hit the gym, you’ve most likely seen more than a few athletes sporting colorful, stretchy tape on their limbs and joints. We certainly see our share of taped-up gym rats at our Prime gym in Vancouver. Well, that’s kinesiology tape, and it’s not just a fashion statement.

It’s only natural to be curious about how a bit of tape can make a difference to your workout or recovery, and you’re in the right place to find out the science behind it. Kinesiology tape can mimic the skin’s elasticity, allowing you to move freely while it works its magic.

Whether you’re a competitive athlete or just like to blow off some steam from time to time, understanding how this tape works can improve your performance and speed up recovery times. Let’s break down how kinesiology tape does what it does so you can decide if it’s something you want to include in your gym bag. 

What is Kinesiology Tape?

Kinesiology tape is a stretchy, therapeutic tape that can mimic the elasticity of your skin. In Canada, 35% of adults are likely to experience some sort of exercise-related injury, so you probably see a lot of athletes using long strips of colorful tape. 

That’s kinesiology tape, and unlike athletic tape, which is rigid and used to immobilize joints, this tape is pliable and allows you to have a full range of motion. If you’re trying to support your muscles and joints without restricting your movements, then it’s exactly what you need.

A Brief History and Overview

Kinesio tape was invented back in the 1970s by a Japanese chiropractor named Dr. Kenzo Kase. He felt like his patients could do with more treatment options after they left his care. The tapes and bandages available at the time just didn’t offer the support that mimicked the elasticity of human skin and didn’t do much for the healing process.

So, he developed a cotton tape with an acrylic adhesive that could be worn for days, giving the muscles constant support. The tape caught on quickly within the athletic community. It didn’t only offer support but also seemed to help the body heal faster from sports-related injuries.

You may have noticed more and more athletes using kinesiology tape over the years, and that’s because it’s become a staple in both injury prevention and management. Whether you’re dealing with a nagging knee issue or a strained shoulder, you can apply the tape in specific patterns to target the affected area and help you recover without getting in the way of your workout.

The Science Behind Kinesiology Tape

You must be thinking that a simple strip of tape can’t do all that much to heal and prevent injuries. It’s just tape, after all. But you’ll be surprised by the science behind this seemingly simple invention. So, how does kinesiology tape work?

One of its key features is its elasticity – it can stretch up to 160% of its original length, mimicking the same elasticity as your skin, which allows for a full range of motion. You can move freely without feeling restricted, which is a big deal when you’re looking to maintain performance while recovering from an injury.

The adhesive used on the sticky side of the tape is no ordinary glue. It’s a medical-grade, heat-activated acrylic adhesive that’s gentle on your skin but tough enough to hang on during intense sweat sessions. That tape isn’t budging, even after you take a few showers, which is way more convenient than having to wrap and rewrap yourself every day.

Now, let’s talk about the science that’s happening under the surface:

  • Skin Lifting and Pain Relief. When you apply kinesiology tape to your skin, it will slightly recoil and lift the skin. This microscopic lift of the skin creates a small space between your skin and the tissues underneath.
  • Improved Blood Flow and Lymphatic Drainage. The lift the Kinesio tape provides helps reduce the pressure on the underlying tissues, which can improve blood flow and lymphatic drainage. This can lead to a reduction in swelling and bruising. 
  • Proprioception and Muscle Support: When it comes to muscle tension, the tape’s gentle pull can provide a sort of ‘cue’ to your muscles, helping them stay aligned and less fatigued. This can improve proprioception, which is the body’s awareness of its position and movement in space. 

How to Apply Kinesiology Tape

In fitness, if you want to achieve the best results, you have to do each exercise using the proper form. If you don’t, you won’t be targeting the correct muscles, meaning you won’t be getting the results you want. The same goes when applying your kinesiology tape. You have to do it properly by following the steps below. Otherwise, it won’t be as effective. 

Step 1

Start by prepping and priming your skin for adhesion. Clean the area with soap and water. Wash away any oils, lotions, and dirt. Pat your skin dry, and don’t try to moisturize or add baby powder – just let your natural skin do its thing. Kinesio tape sticks best when your skin is clean and dry. 

Step 2

Now, here’s where technique matters. You want to apply the tape with the right amount of tension. You want to stick the ends without stretching them and only stretch the middle part of the tape. Typically, you’ll use about 15-25% of the tape’s maximum stretch.

However, your goals matter here. For example, if you’re looking to support a muscle, you might go for a bit more tension, but if you want to reduce swelling, use less. Just remember, stretching the tape to the max isn’t the goal and can actually irritate your skin or pull uncomfortably.

Step 3

Once you’ve laid down the tape, don’t just leave it as is. You must activate the heat-sensitive adhesive for the magic to happen. So go ahead and give it a good rub. The friction you create by rubbing the tape with your hand or the back of a tape roll generates heat, which helps the tape stick more securely to your skin. 

Step 4

Now, keep in mind that one size doesn’t fit all. If you’re dealing with a tricky spot like the shoulder or knee, you might need to cut the tape into Y or X shapes to contour the area better and allow for a full range of motion. When applying it to your joints, make sure they’re in a partially bent position, as this helps when you move back into action.

For contoured areas like the elbow or ankle, flex the joint and apply the tape in this position so it’s comfortable and effective. You want the tape to work with your body, not against it, so don’t tape up in a way that restricts movement where it should be free.

Wrapping It Up

So now you know how kinesiology tape does its magic – from lifting your skin slightly to give your muscles and joints a break to improving circulation and supporting injured areas. 

But before you start slapping strips of tape all over yourself, it’s a smart move to chat with a professional in the field. If you’re in the Vancouver area, we at Prime Health + Performance can show you how to apply kinesiology tape properly.

Our team of physiotherapists, kinesiologists, and certified personal trainers can give you the scoop on the best ways to use kinesiology tape for your unique situation. So give us a call and let our experts show you a taping technique that will help you hit the gym again pain-free!


What is kinesiology tape, and how does it work?

Kinesiology tape is a stretchy, therapeutic tape that mimics the elasticity of the skin. It works by lifting the skin slightly, improving blood flow, reducing swelling, and supporting muscles and joints. Its adhesive is heat-activated, allowing it to stay in place during workouts.

Can anyone use kinesiology tape, or is it only for athletes?

Kinesiology tape is suitable for both athletes and non-athletes. It can help anyone seeking muscle and joint support without restricting movement. It’s commonly used for injury prevention, management, and improved circulation.

Is professional guidance necessary for applying kinesiology tape correctly?

While kinesiology tape can be applied by individuals, professional guidance ensures proper application for specific needs. Professionals can provide advice on tape tension, cutting techniques, and contouring to maximize its benefits.

How long can kinesiology tape be worn, and is it waterproof?

Kinesiology tape is designed to be worn for several days, even during workouts and showers, thanks to its waterproof and heat-activated adhesive. However, it’s essential to follow recommended usage guidelines and remove it if irritation occurs.