Kinesiology Tape Might Improve Horse Propulsion, Core Strength

Placing elastic therapeutic tape strategically on the skin might stimulate the underlying muscles and help horses recovering from back pain or injury.
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kinesiology taping
Scientists suspect kinesiology taping on the skin might stimulate the fascia—connective tissue surrounding the muscles—as well as the lymphatic system, sensory receptors, and the muscles themselves. | Courtesy Dr. Isabelle Burgaud.
Horses wearing special physical therapy tape across the abdomen appear to have better forward propulsion at the trot and possibly better core strength, researchers report.

Sticky elastic adhesive bands, known as kinesiology tape, placed on the skin seemed to stimulate underlying muscles, leading to more longitudinal activity and longer strides, at least when horses are trotting, said Sophie Biau, PhD, research coordinator at the Ecole National d’Equitation, in Saumur, France.

“It seems to activate the contraction of abdominal muscles,” she said.

Already recognized as having potential therapeutic benefits in human athletes, kinesiology tape might be more effective in horses than in people, said Biau.

“Horses are very sensitive at the cutaneous level because their skin is much richer in receptors than ours is, and they have a very developed ‘skin’ muscle (the cutaneous trunci muscle, CTM) that reaches from the sides of the abdomen up to the ‘skin’ muscle of the neck, with (connective tissue) continuity down to the forelimbs and hind limbs,” she said.

Biau and her colleague Isabelle Burgaud, DVM, of the French Horse and Equitation Institute (IFCE), also in Saumur, tested 10 adult dressage horses wearing kinesiology tape during walk-trot sessions in hand and on the longe. They targeted two abdominal muscles involved in core stability and movement: the obliquus externus abdominis (OEA) and the rectus abdominis (RA).

The scientists placed 10-centimeter (4-inch)-wide bands across the RA muscles and 6-centimeter (2.3-inch) bands in an X-shape across the OEA muscles. They stretched the tape to 25% tension across the RA muscles and 100% tension across the OEA muscles for the test phase of the experiment. In a control phase the horses wore the same tape design but without tension.

Handlers hand-walked and -trotted the horses 50 meters (50 yards) on a straight sand track before and after a 16-minute walk/trot/canter longe session on a 13-meter (40-foot)-diameter circle. When in hand, the horses wore a 3D accelerometer with a data logger on the chest in a girth strap. Each horse underwent an experimental test and a control test, in random order, on two consecutive days.

Before and after the longeing session, longitudinal activity (essentially, the horse’s forward propulsion) was 28% and 16% greater, respectively, at the trot when the tape was stretched under tension, compared to the control tape, the researchers reported. That might be because the tape caused the abdominal muscles to contract during the stance phase. This could reasonably decrease thoracolumbar extension while increasing lumbosacral flexion—resulting in improved longitudinal activity, they explained.

In addition, the horses took fewer trot strides when the tape was stretched, suggesting they were lengthening their strides, the researchers said. That could be because of increased abdominal muscle strength and/or possible stimulation of the CTM, which lies partially under the tapes, they added.

Whether in horses or humans, scientists suspect kinesiology taping on the skin might stimulate the fascia—connective tissue surrounding the muscles—as well as the lymphatic system, sensory receptors, and the muscles themselves, said the researchers. When the tape stretches from the site of the muscle’s origin to its insertion point at the other end, it might produce an elastic pull on the fascia, encouraging the muscle to contract during movement, potentially improving muscular strength.

The tape itself does not appear to cause discomfort to the horses, the researchers explained, provided you remove it gently in the direction of the hair growth. “In my experience, I had no problems taking off the tape and saw no allergic reactions or other problems, even though some of the horses kept the tape on for two to three weeks,” Burgaud said. “As the hair renews and sheds, the tape comes off on its own after about three weeks.”

The technique might be particularly helpful for horses recovering from back pain or injury, said Biau. “We know that to relieve a horse’s back, we have to first reinforce the abdominals,” she said. “’No abdos, no back,’—and this is even more true in the four-legged horse than in the human.”

The study, “Application of kinesiology taping to equine abdominal musculature in a tension frame for muscle facilitation increases longitudinal activity at the trot,” was published in the Equine Veterinary Journal in Oct. 2021.

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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