How to Protect Your Joints and Muscles with Kinesiology Tape in Active Sports

Posted in Kinesiology Tape   |   By

Erin Barsness

September 13, 2019

kinesiology tape on shoulder

Sports medicine is always improving. Not only are medical techniques for catastrophic injuries getting people back on their feet faster, but pain treatments and equipment that reduces the risk of injury in the first place are getting better. Kinesiology tape is certainly one of them. If you're highly active and you've dealt with inflammation, joint pain, or even muscle weakness after a surgery, keep reading to see if kinesiology tape can provide the additional layer of support and wellness to make your active sports more fun.

What Active Sports Injuries Should You Look Out For?

Sports and highly active pastimes that put a lot of pressure on your joints aren't necessarily unhealthy. But regularly taking part in high-impact activities means it's important to take stock of your own health and wellness. Small aches and pains can develop into debilitating injuries and stress. Inflammation and swelling from the lymphatic fluid can cause greater injuries over time. 

While all activity can cause some degree of joint stress and inflammation, active sports are one of the most predominant factors behind athletic injuries. Learn more about if your favorite activities quality and what injuries you should be on the alert for. 

What Are Active Sports?

While almost all sports require some degree of physical activity, many sports require more vigorous and high-intensity activity than others. These are classified as "active sports," and the list includes sports such as:

  • Basketball
  • Football and Rugby
  • Rock Climbing
  • Skating
  • Soccer
  • Surfing
  • Tennis
  • Swimming
  • Volleyball

Active sports are classified as (i) occurring frequently, (ii) requiring relatively high intensity, and (iii) having that high-intensity activity for a duration of twenty minutes or more. The above list isn't all-inclusive. Aside from meeting the requirements to be considered "active sports," these activities also involve multiple joint groups and types of movement. Not only are you running, but you're also throwing or swinging. Every sport has a long list of technical throws, movements, and muscle contractions that need to happen precisely in order to achieve both success and reduce the risk of injury.

Common Active Sports Injuries and Pain

Contact sports have a lot of impact-based injuries, but even active sports without contact can result in a lot of injuries. Over-extending your muscles, landing wrong from a jump or a fall, and overusing muscles can all cause injuries. Some of the most common include:

  • Tennis and golf elbow
  • Shoulder injuries from misalignment and muscle strain
  • Sciatica
  • Hip flexor, groin, and ACL strains
  • Plantar fasciitis, or foot strain

Most of these injuries are partially caused by or exacerbate inflammation. That inflammation is what causes a lot of swelling, heat, and residual pain even once you're off the field.

How Can Kinesiology Tape Help?

The best way to reduce the risk of long-term injuries and chronic pain is to try to mitigate the risk of injury in the first place. If you frequently find yourself with sore knees, inflamed ankles, or a bad case of tennis elbow, it's time to look for a solution that stops the problem before it starts. For many people suffering from active sports injuries, that solution is kinesiology tape.

What Is Kinesiology Tape?

Similar to a light brace, kinesiology tape lifts and slightly "rearranges" the skin around a joint or sensitive muscle group. This light adjustment helps improve lymphatic fluid circulation. But unlike most braces, kinesiology tape is a thin fabric that applies little to no restrictive compression or pressure. The material is usually cotton with elastic fibers or cores in the threads. These specifically designed threads run in one plane, which helps support an athlete's movement without restricting it.

How Can It Help Support Joints and Reduce Pain?

The lymphatic system carries away excess lymph fluid from body tissues, but if the area around certain tissue is compressed or overly stressed, that drainage can't happen. The fluid starts to build up and cause inflammation that results in pain, sensitivity, and even changes in gait or movement that result in injury.

Even injuries themselves lead to inflammation as cells die and proteins begin to build up near the injury. The lymphatic system carries away those proteins and excess or dead waste. If the lymphatic system can't do its job, the waste will build up, cause more inflammation and increase the cycle.

Kinesiology tape elevates the tissue and fascia around knees, elbows, and other common injury points. That achieves three things that are essential during participation in active sports:

  1. Carrying away elevated levels of cellular waste. When you're playing hard, your body is working hard. Just like you have to breathe harder and stay hydrated because your body is using up oxygen and water faster during bursts of high activity, your cells are expelling waste faster. Your lymphatic system has to keep up with demand, and well-placed kinesiology tape ensures the system has can circulate with minimal obstruction or compression.
  2. Giving your body an advantage during expected microtears and stress. If you love physical fitness, you've probably seen a YouTube video or two that explains how microtears in your muscles are what build muscle mass. Even though the muscle you build through active sports might be a long-term good, your body still recognizes it as an immediate injury. Inflammation is the first phase of your body's response to injuries small and large. Since that inflammation is on some level guaranteed, it's important to use kinesiology tape as a counterbalancing measure.
  3. Reducing the risk of impactful inflammation that leads to an injury. Active sports also cause a lot of injuries that people don't want but still anticipate as a potential risk. While good form, frequent breaks, and appropriate conditioning can go a long way toward minimizing the risk, injuries and inflammation happen. Preventative kinesiology tape application stops inflammation from interfering too much with your muscle movement until the inflammation calms down.

Kinesiology tape is also built to provide light support for recovering muscles. The one-way elasticity helps stabilize muscles and joints but doesn't impede full use of the muscles in the correct directions. Many applications of kinesiology tape surround muscle groups in a "V' or "Y" shape to do precisely that.

When Should You Use Kinesiology Tape?

If you've ever felt pain or noticed inflammation from playing active sports, it's time to try kinesiology tape. You don't have to wait for an injury to start considering treatment. In fact, once you've identified key stress points or vulnerable joints, acting early can prevent stress injuries, chronic pain, fatigue, and even serious accidental injuries that would require surgery or braces.

While you might have first been introduced to the idea of kinesiology tape from the Olympics, kinesiology tape is for everyone. If you race, compete, or go to the gym, preventative wellness care is a must. 

Don't read about kinesiology tape here and then forget about it. It's especially important for people who:

  • Are recovering from surgery or sports injuries.
  • Have a history of chronic joint or muscle pain.
  • Have a history of lymphedema.

However, kinesiology tape is just one layer of treatment and preventative wellness care. For some people who suffer from inflammation or joint pain, kinesiology tape isn't enough. It might even have little to no effect. Always talk to your doctor about possible treatment or the best configurations for kinesiology tape application. You can also talk to your trainer about modifying the placement, improving your form, or looking into better footwear, braces, and equipment.

Common Wraps and Techniques for Kinesiology Tape

Most techniques involve three steps:

  1. Preparing or pre-loading the muscles.
  2. Adding decompression strips to reduce inflammation
  3. Adding stabilizing tape for support without restriction.

One of the most common techniques involves applying the tap in a "Y" formation. After stretching out the muscles through yoga or stretches, extend your muscles as far as comfortably possible. Hold that stretch to apply horizontal strips across the most painful muscle areas to complete the second step. Then, third, encircle the sides and bottom of the muscle group with stabilizing strips that cross at the top or bottom. If you see athletes with "V"s of brightly colored tape on the back of their leg from their knee to the ankle or the back of their shoulder, this is the same technique.

For even more support you might see athletes or weekend warriors with kinesiology tape forming an "X" right under their knee cap. Resources like Theratape often have colorful, step-by-step guides that can show you how to apply tape based on the specific material and the injury or pain. Proper technique makes all the difference when applying kinesiology tape. Matching the wrong technique to muscle pain or not adequately pre-loading the muscle means the tape can't provide the support or elevation you need. If you're not sure what technique is the right fit, talk to your trainer or doctor. 

Mueller Sports Medicine is all about getting you the information and treatment you need to return to your active lifestyle. If you have injuries or chronic pain that interferes with your favorite active sports, hobbies, or daily life, browse through our catalog of helpful tips to get comfortably and safely back on your feet. You can also contact our team for assistance finding the right kinesiology tape and pain treatment products for your specific case.

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