Kenzo Kase, DC, developed the Kinesio tape method in 1973 to provide a nonpharmaceutical way to alleviate his patients’ pain between appointments. He created elastic therapeutic tape with a thickness, stretch, and weight similar to the superficial skin layer. The adhesive pattern is in a repeated wave form, similar to a fingerprint, and designed to help lift the skin while allowing it to “breathe,” permitting moisture to escape and the skin to cool. The tape’s elastic quality stretches the tissue, producing either a massage or a lifting effect on the subdermal (beneath the skin) and fascial (connective tissue) layers. This forms coils or twists in the skin believed to separate the muscle and dermal layers as well as increase interstitial space (areas between cells) and stimulate mechanoreceptors (cells that respond to stimuli). In theory, the increased space has a lower pressure gradient than surrounding areas and pulls fluid and exudate (liquid produced in response to tissue damage) into it. This fluid movement is believed to decrease inflammation in the treated area and aid normal blood flow and lymphatic drainage. The space might also take pressure off swollen or injured muscles, reducing pain and allowing tissue remodeling and healing.
Currently, studies investigating the use and efficacy of elastic therapeutic taping methods in horses are limited. In 2018 researchers performed an international survey of equine veterinarians focused on sports medicine/rehabilitation on modalities they use. Results showed 33% of respondents used elastic therapeutic taping methods. Another recent study found the modality had no effect on the muscles of horses’ upper forelegs or ventral neck.
Researchers studying elastic therapeutic taping in humans (e.g., Chao YW et al. 2016) have shown it can exert positive physiological effects on the dermal, lymphatic, circulatory, and neuromuscular systems. Taping can potentially influence these systems through four major actions:
- Supporting weakened, overused, or injured muscles by helping them contract or relax; reducing fatigue and cramping; preventing overextension and overcontraction; and preventing reinjury.
- Improving circulation by way of the lifting, space creation, osmotic effect, and inflammation decrease, which remove lactic acid, breakdown products, damaged cells, and cellular debris.
- Reducing pain by relieving tension in tight, overused, or cramped muscles.
- Correcting joint problems by stabilizing the ligaments and tendons, allowing full range of motion, reducing joint swelling, and facilitating proper positioning, use, and motion.
Practitioners can use these actions in a variety of combinations, commonly for:
Circulatory/lymphatic correction Used to enhance fluid, exudate, and blood flow between tissue layers.
Fascia correction Used to reduce tension or adhesions between and within the fascial layers that are limiting motion.
Functional correction Used to increase tension at the skin or joint capsule to assist or restrict a motion and thereby change the brain’s perception of the joints’ position and how they should move.
Ligament/tendon correction Used to support injured tissues without limiting motion and to facilitate proper realignment of strained or torn fibers during healing without overuse and reinjury.
Mechanical correction Used to provide functional support to muscles, fascial tissue, or joints without limiting range of motion or inhibiting circulation.
Scar tissue correction Used to reorganize and minimize scars and scar tissue.
Space correction Used to reduce pressure and pain.
The tape comes in several colors, which are no different other than darker colors (red, black) absorb more sunlight and increase skin temperature under the tape.
Practitioners can use the taping methods at any point in the healing process, from acute injury onset to the subacute (recent onset), chronic, or rehab stages. They might also apply the tape as a preventive modality in the face of rehab or strenuous exercise. Practitioners can use it in conjunction with cryotherapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, and during workouts. They should not apply it in infected areas, on tumors, over wounds, or in the presence of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots).
When used properly, this taping might provide horses support during movement, improve circulation and lymphatic flow, reduce pain, inflammation, and tension, relax and assist muscles, release fascia, and improve joint function.