Kinesio Taping and Massage
originally appeared in Massage Message, bimonthly magazine of the Florida State Massage Therapy Association
reprinted in Best of Massage Message 2009
A quick trip through your local gift shop will tell you that people want to take the benefits of massage with them. Wooden rollers and vibrating gadgets, herbal salves and oils, and beaded seat covers abound, all designed to extend the benefit of bodywork to the home, office, car, or plane.
In your practice, you doubtless see clients who could benefit from any technique to extend the effects of massage over time and distance–clients who aren’t able to come in as often as they might like, whether because of financial or insurance restrictions, tight schedules, or long commutes to your office. Wouldn’t it be nice to send them home with something extra, something that would continue the healing process begun on your table?
Enter Kinesio Taping. Developed a quarter-century ago by Japanese chiropractor Dr. Kenzo Kase, Kinesio Taping, or “KT”, is proving to be an essential tool for Massage Therapists worldwide. Rooted in the science of Kinesiology and sharing the same trust in the body’s ability to heal itself found in many bodywork and somatic modalities, KT is a perfect adjunct to massage. KT works by activating neurological, circulatory, and lymphatic networks to stimulate a return to homeostatic balance, relieving pain and swelling and restoring normal musculoskeletal function.
“KT is essentially a myofascial release, edema reduction, muscle facilitation, and connective tissue softening technique all in one,” says Scott Norris, LMT, of the Center for Therapeutic Massage in Gahanna, Ohio. “The effects are immediate and long-lasting,” he adds, “It will continue to give a soft tissue treatment to a client for the days following a taping application.”
What Scott and other have found is that KT, while currently more prevalent among Physical and Occupational Therapists in the United States, is in some ways more suited to the field of massage. While rehab therapists may have to “unlearn” what they know about traditional taping modalities, KT “directly addresses the structures about which we were educated and with which we deal every day,” Norris asserts. Massage Therapists who balk at the idea of using tape may be surprised to hear that “although [traditional] taping is considered a modality, KT is more like a manual technique,” according to Drs. Wendy Burke and Cindy Bailey, both Physical Therapists and Certified Kinesio Taping Instructors.
Since KT is designed with the fluid movement of the fascia in mind and facilitates, rather than restricts, normal biomechanics, many MTs find it to be a very intuitive addition to their repertoire. “Massage helps relax hypertonic muscles, helps break up scar tissue, and increases circulation to the muscles, [and] KT enhances these effects,” affirms Joan Manning, CMT, of Atlanta, Georgia.
The Kinesio Taping Method approaches dysfunction and injury from a holistic perspective, recognizing that healing is a process rather than a single event. Encompassing a wide variety of applications and techniques, KT is easily tailored to each individual client’s needs. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and one client may require several different types of taping as he or shoe regains healthy function. Proper use of the KT requires a focused and detailed attention to the nature and cause of each complaint, as each application may integrate musculoskeletal, circulatory, neurological, lymphatic, and other components.
Education in the Kinesio Taping Method is available from the Kinesio Taping Association and its associated seminar providers. At this writing, the KTA is in the final stages of receiving NCBTMB approval to award CEUs to Massage Therapists nationwide.
All KT courses begin with an introduction to the Method’s fundamental concepts and major functions: muscle support, analgesia, congestion removal, and joint correction. As with Kinesiology, KT starts at the muscles–introductory courses review muscle anatomy and muscle taping applications. Central to the practice of both KT and massage is proper treatment of weak, injured, or hypertonic muscles; all other applications arise from this foundation. The more complex clinical applications build on the knowledge of muscle taping, addressing the surrounding circulatory, neurological, lymphatic, and connective tissues.
These advanced concepts of the Kinesio Taping Method are divided into six categories: mechanical, fascia, space, ligament/tendon, functional, and lymphatic corrections. Each technique involves a different desired effect on the targeted area, and, more importantly, a different amount of tension in the tape itself. Kinesio Tex Tape was designed by Dr. Kase specifically to be used with the Kinesio Taping Method. Its structure reflects that of normal human skin: it is thin, lightweight, water resistant, and breathable, and can be stretched longitudinally up to 140% of its length. The amount of stretch used in an application is as important as the placement of the tape itself–as with depth of stroke in massage, the degree of tension applied in the tape will directly impact which tissue structures are affected and how.
A few of these techniques stand out immediately as valuable to the practice of massage. Any sort of myofascial release may be sustained and extended by the use of a fascia correction. After treatment, the therapist applies tape with light to moderate tension, aligning tissue in the desired position. In this way, the techniques of manual fascia winding or myofascial release are extended for days beyond the original treatment and taping. The client continues to experience the benefit of the soft tissue manipulation long after the initial visit.
Consider also the client who presents with an acute condition. Before beginning any deep corrective work, the immediate issues of pain, inflammation, and swelling must be addressed. KT has proven to be very effective in dealing with acute conditions, with its demonstrated analgesic effects and its ability to dramatically reduce edema and circulatory congestion. Using a space correction to lift the skin and decrease pressure over the area in question, the therapist is able to achieve a significant reduction in the acute symptoms. Joyce Shieldnight, NMT/NCBTMB, describes the sports and overuse injuries she sees in her Coweta, Oklahoma, practice: “I see them with fatigued muscles, sprains, and strains… I tape the bruised areas, and the discoloration is greatly reduced and the tenderness is lessened.”
Another valuable application of KT is in lymphedema reduction. One of the most complex applications to learn, lymphatic corrections have proven invaluable for practitioners of lymph drainage and their clients. Joan Manning elaborates: “My lymphedema patients love it as it continues the lymph drainage for days after their sessions with me. Breast cancer patients who used to have to see me every week or two to keep their edema down can now go three to four weeks without needing to be treated, because the KT is so effective at continuing the drainage after they leave my office… The effects are phenomenal.”
Kinesio Taping is appropriate for so many applications and is safe to use with almost any client you may see. The tape itself is made from high-grade cotton with latex-free adhesive. Skin sensitivities are extremely rare, and the tape may be used with pediatric or geriatric clients or others with delicate skin. Many of the basic techniques used with KT will be quite familiar to Massage Therapists, who will surely find dozens of immediate uses for this unique taping method. Additionally, patients can frequently learn simple applications, and so can tape themselves in the days or weeks between bodywork sessions. KT extends your healing work beyond the boundaries of office walls and appointment hours.
As the benefits of massage become ever more widely known, more and more clients will seek out this healing modality. Many will come with conditions that require ongoing treatment, and these clients stand to benefit most from the application of Kinesio Taping. As a complement to massage and bodywork, KT gently yet effectively increases the impact of your treatment. Clients now truly can take the benefits of massage with them.