Tale Of the Tape

Since it was first developed in the 1970’s, elastic therapeutic tape has greatly enhanced sports medicine professional’s ability to treat athletes’ in injuries, relieve their pain, and improve their performance. And this modality is still growing in popularity and evolving in how it can be applied to meet specific therapeutic needs.

            The elastic therapeutic taping method first caught the attention of many athletes and sports medicine professionals worldwide during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. A number of prominent athletes were shown on TV wearing the sometimes strange-looking tape jobs before, after, and even during competition. Some of the world’s top tennis players, long jumpers, sprinters, hurdlers, and basketball players had the tape attached to their arms, legs, and shoulders, and some people immediately wanted to know what it was and why so many athletes were wearing it.

Wrap Session

            At its core, elastic therapeutic taping is based on a simple principle: The body has built-in healing mechanisms, and we can speed up their work by removing barriers that impede them. More specifically, the tape provides extended soft tissue manipulation to prolong the benefits of manual therapy administered in the athletic training room. The results are increased fluid flow through an injured area, better control over muscle contractions, reduced pain, and ultimately faster healing.

            The tape’s elasticity allows it to stretch lengthwise 40 to 60 percent beyong its resting length, and its thickness and weight are very similar to that of human skin. It is usually applied with help from a heat- activated acrylic adhesive, and when applied to the skin it creates a mechanical lifting effect, expanding the narrow space between the skin tissue and adjacent muscle tissue.

            This space is rich in blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and neural receptors. When it is enlarged, intercellular fluids can flow more freely – for example, lymph moves more easily out of lymph channels and into the larger lymph ducts. The increased flow of fluids allows more nutrients from the blood to be absorbed into tissue that’s healing, thereby helping the rebuilding process.

            For everyday athletic contusions that lead to swelling and edema, this increased flow has profound effects. Edema leads to localized areas of high capillary pressure, which can restrict lymph and blood availability to a region that greatly needs it. By holding the skin away from the muscle, the tape can relieve this pressure and produce dramatic improvements in healing time for soft tissue injuries.

            Opening up this space also relieves pressure on the nerve endings that send pain messages to the brain. With the resulting decrease in pain, muscles and joints can begin moving in their normal, pre-injury movement patterns earlier in the rehab process. The pain reduction also increases athlete comfort during healing.

            In addition, this taping method affects the cobweb-like fascia structures surrounding damaged tissue. Muscle injuries typically lead to fascial tightness and scarring, and one goal of manual therapy in an injured area is to stretch the fascia to promote the return of normal function. The tape takes this manipulation a step further by allowing the fascia to be held in a stretched position for extended periods. In the process, it also helps control muscle spasms.

            These effects make elastic therapeutic taping different from traditional taping methods, which compress the skin and tissue beneath it. While compression can be helpful to control swelling immediately post-injury and limit circulations to areas that most need blood flow during healing, and sometimes irritates local pain receptors. Elastic therapeutic tape provides support for an injured are without these negative effects.


            Using the tape correctly requires specific education and training. The different applications for this modality include muscular; mechanical; fascial; space, ligamnets, and tendon correcting; functional; and lymphatic.

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