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In massage therapy, a primary goal is to relieve pain and enhance muscle-tendon, fascia and joint function. The massage therapist accomplishes this mission by touching the skin and controlling these specific factors of massage application: skin surface contact area; amount of pressure applied on the skin; angle that pressure is applied; glide speed across the skin; duration of the touch; and location of the touch.
The body’s response to massage therapy is a nervous system event. In the end, all our efforts of massage therapy are designed to elicit relief by introducing touch stimulus on the surface of the skin to stimulate the somatic senses. The primary somatic senses that massage therapy strives to affect are the mechanoreceptors, which include both tactile and position sensations.
These sensations are created by the mechanical displacement of soft tissues of the body, along with joint movements. The tactile senses are touch, pressure, vibration and tickle sensations, according to the Textbook of Medical Physiology by Arthur C. Guyton and John E. Hall, Ph.D.
There are two position senses that impact sensory information to the body: the static position, and the rate of movement senses, both of which occur during joint range-of-motion activity. The somatic or body senses are the nervous system mechanisms that collect sensory input from the body. These somatic sensations provide information for the body to achieve balance and homeostasis in gravity during locomotion and spatial movement activity.
The primary client challenge that the massage therapist faces is twofold: pain and restricted joint mobility. Massage therapy strategy formed from orthopedic assessment skills can produce positive results and relieve muscle pain. One modality that can be included in the strategy to enhance somatic sensations is the application of kinesiology tape at the conclusion of the massage therapy session.
How Tape Works
Just as massage therapy is a stimulus to the tactile receptors in the skin, so are other external applications to the skin, such as tape. Kinesiology tape is another way of touching the skin to stimulate the mechanoreceptive somatic senses, specifically the tactile senses of touch and pressure.
Kinesiology tape can be applied with varying levels of tape tension. The tape tension is critical to achieving the desired effect on the nerve receptors in the skin. Any stimulus that touches the skin causes the transmission of steady nerve signals that allow the body to determine specific pressure on the skin.
Kinesiology tape can thus be utilized as an extension of the massage therapy session by continuing to provide tactile sensory input to these mechanoreceptors in the skin.
Using kinesiology tape effectively starts with choosing a good quality tape and knowing how much tape stretch you’re achieving while applying the tape to the skin. A quality kinesiology tape should stick for three to five days without irritating the client’s skin. It should also wick away moisture, not peel off when it comes into contact with water or sweat, and allow the client to bathe normally.
When applying tape, the instructions included with it should indicate the level of stretch appropriate for each application; this will help even a novice user of tape apply it with ease. It will also reduce waste and hassle from re-taping if you make a mistake; pulling up tape to reposition it weakens the adhesive. One of the newer tapes on the market provides specific visual cues that indicate when you’re at an ideal level of stretch.
A second important factor when applying kinesiology tape is the angle of the joint that is directly related to the skin area being taped. The proprioceptive sensations are influenced by joint angles and position.
Placing, for example, an upper extremity into a 45-degree abducted position prior to applying kinesiology tape onto a deltoid muscle can enhance the results when the primary complaint of shoulder pain may be related to the supraspinatus muscle or the deltoid muscle.
Instructions for Clients
Aftercare with kinesiology tape is critical. Always instruct clients to remove it if their symptoms get worse or if it starts to irritate their skin. Also advise them to dry the tape with a towel after bathing, showering or swimming.
When they need to remove the tape, they should press down on the bare skin next to the tape and pull the tape up gently.
Uses for Tape
As a certified athletic trainer with 30 years’ experience, the use of athletic tape to provide additional joint stabilization and protection been a cornerstone skill mastered by the certified athletic trainer.
College and professional football teams in the U.S. often require mandatory ankle taping for all players and knee bracing or taping for linemen, especially those with postsurgery, rehabilitated knees. In the athletic training profession, taping around joints to provide support and stimulate proprioceptive nerves provides joint sensory stimulation that has a positive effect on the movement patterns of the joint and the motor function of the associated skeletal muscle.
The difference between kinesiology taping and athletic taping lies in the elasticity of the tape. In standard white athletic tape, there is very little elasticity, as its primary objective is joint and ligament protection. Kinesiology tape, on the other hand, because of its intentional elasticity, its adhesive nature and its grooved surface design—which has the appearance of a topographic map or fingerprint—is more of a somatic sensory stimulus than athletic tape.
The objective of kinesiology taping is not to stabilize a joint by restricting it, but rather to stimulate somatic sensory input and proprioception to allow the body’s natural neuromuscular self-correction mechanism, in the form of reflexes, to take place during movement. Thus, the application and wearing of kinesiology tape in no way restricts the person’s natural and normal movement patterns and may enhance the mobility of the normal pattern.
Watch a video highlighting common applications of kinesiology tape here.
Tape Plus Massage
This response, when coupled with various massage therapy strategies, may produce a more lasting response to both massage and kinesiology taping. This is a perfect relationship of soft tissue therapy and the stimulation of the mechanoreceptive somatic senses, which include both tactile and position sensation that are stimulated by mechanical displacement of soft tissue of the body, especially fascia.
Kinesiology taping is a sensation that originates on the surface of the skin, while proprioceptive sensations originate with joint position sensations, tendon and muscle sensations, and pressure sensations. Kinesiology taping will stimulate these factors, and when paired with an assessment-driven massage therapy strategy, can create lasting change toward the therapeutic intervention goal of the session.
That is to say, the massage therapy session and the consequent kinesiology taping strategy are driven by the primary complaint and challenge of the client. Orthopedic assessment knowledge and skills can enhance the application strategy of kinesiology taping.
Massage therapy is a form of structured touch of the skin, driven by the science of anatomy and physiology. Kinesiology taping is a form of structured touch on the skin. Incorporating kinesiology taping with massage therapy is a perfect complementary extension of touch to stimulate the somatic sensory receptors of the skin.
All that we do with massage is designed to elicit specific neurological responses. The receptors that detect light touch, heavy touch or pain are all affected by touch on the skin. That touch on the skin can be hands, forearms or feet; the touch can also be kinesiology tape laid upon the skin with the appropriate amount of tension to create an adequate somatic sensory stimulus.
This stimulus can often override pain and allow the joint to become compliant with movement. In many cases movement is the cure; however, interrupting those somatic pain spasm cycles by introducing another mild and constant stimulus, such as kinesiology tape on the skin, can be an effective adjunct to massage and hands-on work, and extend the therapeutic intervention beyond the appointment time allotted.
With the increased interest in fascia and current research by Robert Schleip, published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, we see the amount of somatic sensory innervation embedded in fascia making it receptive to touch, pressure and tension applied on the skin. The important element of applying kinesiology tape is the amount of stretch tension in the tape when placing it in contact with the skin. This constant, low-level stretch tension on the skin is a stimulus to somatic sensory receptors in general.
In Robert Schleip’s two-part series, “Fascial plasticity—a new neurobiological explanation,” published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (January and April 2003), Schleip lays out a compelling line of research around “intrafascial mechanoreceptors.” He writes, “Our central nervous system receives its greatest amount of sensory nerves from our myofascial tissues.” Schleip goes on to write, “A better name would be interstitial myofascial tissue receptors.”
And lastly, “While many of these receptors are multimodal, research has shown that the majority of these interstitial receptors do in fact function as mechanoreceptors, which means they respond to mechanical tension and/or pressure. Fascia is densely innervated by mechanoreceptors.”
With the modern research revelations that fascia is not an inert tissue, as once generally accepted in the medical profession, but is a live, mechanoreceptor-rich tissue that responds to touch on the skin, the addition of kinesiology tape combined with hands-on therapy becomes more intriguing for discovering solutions to help our clients with specific issues.
The future of kinesiology taping appears most beneficial.
About the Author
Benny Vaughn, L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., A.T.C., L.A.T., C.S.C.S., has been a clinical orthopedic massage therapist for 40 years and still sees, on average, 35 cases a week at his athletic therapy center in Fort Worth, Texas. He is also a certified athletic trainer with 30 years of experience in the treatment, prevention and care of athletic injuries. Vaughn is an educator for Performance Health, which makes TheraBand Kinesiology Tape.
About Performance Health
Headquartered in Akron, Ohio, Performance Health is a global health, wellness and self-care company. The Performance Health brands include Biofreeze®, TheraBand®, Cramer®, Bon Vital’®, Perform®, and Thera°Pearl®, featuring a complementary product offering helping health care practitioners, patients and consumers relieve pain, accelerate recovery, grow stronger, improve performance and enhance quality of life for nearly 100 years. In addition to market-leading products, Performance Health supports health care practitioners through education initiatives, such as their massage therapy school program.
TheraBand® Kinesiology Tape features an exclusive innovation from TheraBand— XactStretch™ visual elongation indicators for perfect application every time. XactStretch eliminates misapplication, even for beginners. Plus, it features Cramer’s best-in-class adhesion and durability. It works because it sticks and provides support for up to five days. Latex-free TheraBand Kinesiology Tape is available in bulk, individual and precut rolls, and in seven colors, from subtle to bold.