Sports injuries are unfortunately an unavoidable part of living an active life. A quick Google search brings up hundreds of methods to treat, manage, and support injuries during rehab and return to exercise. But how many of these, including kinesiology tape, can actually help you, and how many are founded more on marketing hype than solid evidence?
In recent years we’ve seen a substantial increase in the use of kinesiology tape, either applied at home or by physiotherapists, typically to provide muscle and joint support or pain relief.
But is there any science behind this trend? Is there any evidence to support its use? Is there a placebo effect giving athletes confidence in muscles & joints? Or is K-tape just about looking cool and feeling good?
A history of kinesiology tape
Kinesiology tape, or K-tape, was developed in Japan in the 1970’s by Dr Kenzo Kase. In his research, Dr Kase found that while standard athletic taping provided some muscle and joint support, it often came with a limited range of motion, and did not support the surrounding fascia and damaged tissue. There had to be a better way to treat and manage sports injuries.
Fast forward two years, and Dr Kase had developed Kinesio Tex tape and the Kinesio Taping method. This promised to support muscles and joints as well as showing benefits for the lymphatic system, while importantly not restricting motion.
Kinesiology Taping first appeared on a worldwide stage at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, before becoming truly popularised as a result of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. K-tape is showing no signs of disappearing, with the worldwide market estimated to reach over $430m by 2025. We now see athletes across elite sports, from athletics to rugby, in the NFL and the Premier League, wearing it on a weekly basis.
What are the benefits of kinesiology tape?
Traditionally, athletes with muscular injury would use tape or strapping to restrict motion and prevent further strain to the affected region. Kinesiology tape essentially takes the opposite approach, attempting to create space for full movement, stabilising the injured area without restricting range-of-motion. K-tape manufacturers typically claim three key benefits:
Decompression & improved blood flow
When a region of the body is injured through over-use or impact, we experience a build-up of lymphatic fluid, causing inflammation, swelling, and often pain. Manufacturers claim that K-tape lifts the skin to decompress the affected tissues, allowing for greater blood flow and removal of this additional lymphatic fluid. This not only could reduce pain, but also promote accelerated healing and returned function of the affected area.
Muscle & joint stability
The elastic yet supportive properties of K-tape are claimed to help muscle alignment, and assist in efficient contraction throughout a joint’s full range of motion. The high recoil factor may also help protect muscles from cramping and over-extension, potentially delaying fatigue and distributing stress more evenly throughout the fascia and ligaments. If true, this would definitely help an athlete maintain joint stability, especially under fatigue when the joint is most vulnerable.
Proprioception & pain reduction
Our bodies are covered in sensory receptors that detect touch and pain, while also contributing to proprioception, our awareness of body position and muscular activation. K-tape is claimed to create a novel sensory input that increases this sense of proprioception, or awareness of individual muscles. It may also change the way our brains interpret any existing pain signals, potentially reducing pain from the affected area.
Is there any scientific evidence supporting the benefits of kinesiology tape?
Well, to some extent at least, the jury is still out. A number of studies have investigated the claimed benefits of kinesiology tape, with some finding small positive effects. There is, however, still a substantial lack of high-quality evidence to back up its use.
Typically, research has looked into three outcome measures when investigating the effects of K-tape: pain relief, range-of-motion, and performance enhancement.
Pain relief is probably the most positive area in terms of benefits in research. Studies investigating both spinal pain and shoulder pain have found short-term (around 24-hour) relief. A meta-analysis of a larger body of research concludes that, although taping is not justified as a primary analgesic technique, it shows potential as a short-term supplementary method to reduce pain. Unsurprisingly, the exact mechanism by which this pain relief is achieved is still unknown, although theories surrounding both the additional sensory input and a purely mechanical decrease in loading are still on the table.
In terms of range-of-motion, again there are some encouraging signs without any overwhelming evidence. Studies investigating the cervical spine and the knee have both found short-term improvements in range of motion and pain, although again it must be noted these improvements may not be clinically meaningful.
Finally, studies investigating potential performance enhancement. Increased strength and muscle activation has been seen in hand grip and quadriceps peak torque activities, as well as improved postural control on unstable surfaces around the ankle.
Unfortunately for every finding in favour of K-tape, we find several non-significant results creating uncertainty, and even more non-clinically relevant findings even if marginally positive.
So, what’s the conclusion? Should I use kinesiology tape or not?
The fact is that K-tape is almost certainly one of those products where the truth is somewhere in the middle. There is definitely hype, and probably something positive in the science, although hard evidence is limited.
K-tape is at the very least a relatively inexpensive, easy, and low risk way to create new sensory input during exercise. For me, although much of the evidence is anecdotal, given the number of high-performance athletes we now see using K-tape there has to be something in it. At the very least it makes people feel good, look awesome, and build confidence in their bodies. In my opinion, so long as the claimed benefits aren’t over-the-top, that is a pretty good place to start.
What’s next in the world of kinesiology tape and support?
K-taping techniques and applications continue to grow, you can find specific courses available for speech therapists, midwives, paediatrics, lymphologists, and even equine kinesiology. But there is research and product development going on beyond that. K-tape technology itself has been relatively unchanged for the past 10 years.
We are starting to see a demand from athletes for multi-functional products that can either assist in injury prevention, support, or performance enhancement, as well as performing their core task. Think of the rise in wearable tech as the best recent example, being able to track activity from a watch, or measure run characteristics from technology integrated into footwear.
Companies including Exosuit are beginning to look at the apparel space, and how to innovate multi-functional garments that go beyond the basic requirements of covering your skin. The combination of performance sports apparel and the supportive aspects of athletic or kinesiology taping is certainly a potential growth area, and one that we think could redefine the way people think of sportswear.
What is taped clothing, and how is it different to existing sportswear?
In short, taped clothing combines existing garments, typically compression wear, with integrated structures that in some way mimic athletic taping.
The integration of support structures into garments really began with postural supports. These range from hardcore braces that guide the wearer into a more neutral position, to more subtle garments promoting a straighter back during sitting and standing. These can be good in certain applications, but are somewhat limited in their specific use for postural support.
More recently a few companies have started integrating flexible structures into garments targeted specifically at sportspeople. Athletes may expect to feel improved muscle & joint support, fatigue reduction, and enhanced recovery. By combining the already extremely popular benefits of compression garments, with some element of targeted support, companies are now able to offer the multi-functional garments that athletes demand.
How is Exosuit unique?
You could certainly group Exosuit into the above category of companies integrating supportive structures into garments, in the quest for truly multi-functional apparel. But when compared to other manufacturers, Exosuit garments are different in a number of ways:
Our patented PowerFlex Technology
The patented technology integrated into every Exosuit garment is unique. In essence it is made up of two parts; a flexible skeleton placed over key muscles and joints, and anatomically positioned silicone panels that interact with the skin to engage the aforementioned support. This integrates seamlessly into a high-performance compression garment, giving you all the benefits you’d expect from the base garment, as well as the additional stability, support, and muscular awareness from our technology.
Some manufacturers simply rely on heavier, more supportive materials in the areas they deem to require additional stability. Our unique dual-layer setup allows us to integrate far more supportive elements into the garment, providing you with the stability and confidence you need to perform to your best.
Targeted interaction at key anatomical sites
While K-tape and some other garment manufacturers’ garments rely on adhering to the wearer’s body along their length, Exosuit garments simply interact with your skin via silicone panels at various key anatomical sites. Not only does this make our garments easier to put on and take off, but it also gives us more flexibility to fine-tune the placement of the integrated support, targeting key muscles and joints more accurately.
Enhanced muscular awareness or proprioception
By interacting with your body at these key anatomical sites, particularly the skin surrounding large primary mover and stabilising muscles, Exosuit garments work to enhance your proprioception. In its simplest form, proprioception is your awareness of body position and muscular activation. You can read more about proprioception and its role in sports performance and sports injury via our other blog articles. But in short, enhanced proprioception has a proven link with both improved performance and reduced risk of injury, so is definitely something we should all consider in our training and apparel choices.
Our first menswear product, the EXO1, provides targeted stability around the shoulder and upper back, while also supporting posture, enhancing body awareness, and promoting a feeling of power. While it may not seem obvious, a strong dynamic posture is also critical for performance in many sports. Setting your body in the correct position to perform powerful, athletic manoeuvres is vital, and the EXO1 can certainly help you do that via its unique cut and integrated upper back support.
Exosuit is different to the big brands
We’re bored of all the big brands offering almost identical compression garments. We believe sportswear should do more than just cover your skin. It should support your body, helping with performance, injury prevention, stability, and confidence. Exosuit is only sportswear brand built with patented integrated support, perfect for athletes who take their sport seriously.
Who should wear Exosuit garments?
Exosuit is designed with athletes in mind. We work with leading professional athletes to create products that give you unrivalled stability, targeted support, and enhanced awareness. Giving you the confidence to train and play hard, push your limits, and become the best athlete you can be.
Exosuit isn’t designed for just one activity, or one type of person. Because of the range of benefits Exosuit provides, there are a range of people who could benefit from our products. Here are just a few examples:
Athletes seeking a boost in performance
Exosuit garments support, stabilise, and make you feel powerful by enhancing muscular awareness in key areas. This all gives you the confidence to push your limits, perform to your best, and be the best athlete you can be.
Athletes seeking targeted muscle and joint support
Whether you have an existing weakness or simply require extra stability, Exosuit can provide you with the functionality and support you need to perform at your peak.
People with active jobs and lifestyles
If you’re working on your feet or with your hands all day, an Exosuit garment can provide you the upper body support and postural stability you need to feel fresh even at the end of your day.
Exosuit athletes across five sports, including international cricketers, rugby players, and American Footballers use Exosuit garments as part of their weekly training and game-day kit bag. This includes use for gym work, contact training, muscular activation, and in-game support. We’ve also seen Exosuit being used in Major League Baseball, Championship football, and by NFL athletes.
Over the coming months our range will be expanding, and as such so will the functionality and support we can provide. So please keep an eye out for the next Exosuit garments as they hit the market.