Women experience a myriad of discomforts and pains associated with the hormonal, physiological and biomechanical changes that occur during pregnancy; there are common reports of back pain, pelvic pain, neck pain, sciatica, swelling in the feet and ankles, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other issues.
Because pregnant women tend to avoid pharmacological intervention due to concerns about the safety of the baby, strategies for pain may include massage, instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM), exercise, adjustments, supportive garments and kinesiology tape.
Kinesiology tape is a drug-free, safe, non-invasive, low-cost intervention that may markedly improve pregnant women’s comfort and movement capability. The tape is lightweight with a consistency similar to that of skin, allowing for improved comfort on hot days and for use in conjunction with other supportive garments. It can be worn sleeping, showering and exercising.
The tape is made from cotton with medical-grade acrylic adhesive that does not seep into the skin or bloodstream.
Studies concerning the efficacy of kinesiology tape techniques for treating pain are prevalent in the literature; however, there are few studies pertaining specifically to kinesiology tape used during and after pregnancy. Some notable research in this area includes:
- A 2017 article in the Medical Science Monitor, “Kinesio Taping vs Placebo in Reducing Pregnancy-Related Low Back Pain,” demonstrated a significant decrease in low-back pain in pregnant women compared to placebo. The authors noted the analgesic effect peaked at two days.
- “Short-Term Effects of Kinesiology Taping in Women with Pregnancy-Related Low Back Pain,” a 2016 study in the same journal, concluded that kinesiology tape may be used as an effective complementary treatment to help relieve pregnancy-related low-back pain.
- A study published in 2017 in Ginekologia Polska, “Impact of Kinesio Taping Application on Pregnant Women Suffering from Pregnancy-Related Pelvic Girdle Pain,” noted significant reduction in pain related to pelvic girdle pain (PGP) that peaked at three days and continued for five days following removal of tape.
- Research in 2019 in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, “Taping Protocol for Two Presentations of Pregnancy-Related Back Pain,” is a case series following two pregnant women: one with lumbosacral pain and the other with PGP, throughout their course of care, including successful applications of kinesiology tape in helping mitigate their pain and improve function.
Mechanisms of Action
Kinesiology tape is proposed to have its direct effects through stimulation of the nervous system via skin receptors. Taping techniques may help improve cortical representation, how well the brain sees the area of the body, to allow for improved movement and comfort. It may have up and down regulatory effects on the nervous system that positively affects tone and posture, much like mobilization, massage and IASTM.
It has been proposed that the tape may help mitigate pain from the bottom up through gating as well as through top-down pain modulation from the brain.
The physical properties of kinesiology tape may enhance the flow of lymphatics and vasculature by creating a decompressive effect, as well as to mechanically provide additional support to the skin and underlying connective tissue.
Kinesiology tape works similarly to soft tissue work and is a powerful adjunct to manual work. Taping techniques give the practitioner the ability to extend the benefits of their work during the massage session for several days and to provide a higher level of service and relief to their clientele.
Applying Kinesiology Tape
For best application, begin with clean, dry skin. You may need to remove massage cream or oil with rubbing alcohol or soap and water if applying after a treatment session. Round the corners of the tape to prevent snagging on clothing.
Apply tape with paper-off tension. This means do not stretch or tension the tape as you lay it down on the skin. After application, rub the tape for 30 seconds to activate the adhesive.
Tape should not be applied to skin that is compromised by open wounds, rashes, etc. It is appropriate to ask your client if they have ever had a skin reaction to adhesives or Band-Aids. If they have, it is recommended to forego kinesiology tape.
To determine if someone has sensitivity to kinesiology tape, apply a test strip (a small 2” piece of tape) in the area to be taped. Let it sit for about 10-15 minutes and monitor the area for any signs of adverse reaction. During a session, you may apply a test strip in one area while working another region of the body for efficacy of time.
Special Considerations During Pregnancy
There are special considerations for the application of kinesiology tape to the skin of pregnant women. Skin quality may change markedly over the span of a pregnancy. In the earlier stages, the skin may tolerate a regular-grade adhesive and full-sized strips of tape without issue. As the pregnancy progresses, the skin may become increasingly sensitive, making a less robust adhesive more comfortable.
Tape manufacturers make tape with different grades of adhesive. The skin may also become increasingly taut as it stretches to accommodate a growing baby. This may result in thinner strips of tape being more comfortable, as well as transitioning to a jellyfish archetype (discussed later) to affect a larger body area with less tape.
Kinesiology tape tends to stay on for 2-5 days when applied under optimal circumstances. Many women’s skin will tend to tolerate it well for 2-3 days earlier in pregnancy, with this reducing to 1-2 days as the pregnancy progresses.
Skin dryness tends to be an issue, and ointment/lotion is commonly employed to address this. Tape may not stay on as long if applied over ointment or topicals.
To remove kinesiology tape, saturate the tape with baby oil and let it sit for 2-3 minutes. The oil will emulsify the adhesive, allowing comfortable, safe removal from the mother’s skin. If oil is not available, tease up the corners and gently roll the tape off while pressing the tape parallel into the skin surface as you do so. Do not pull the tape off like a Band-Aid, as this may damage the skin.
Taping Techniques for Pregnancy
Pregnant women often report they feel as though they are carrying a heavy load in the front with pain in the back. It is common for them to report having difficulty moving in general and with transitions in particular. The following applications are meant to help ease some of these issues.
It is important to remember that kinesiology tape is an incredibly versatile tool and the applications can be modified for individuals and their particular presentations. These examples are meant to provide ideas to be expanded upon in your practice.
This H-shaped archetype, or application shape, is commonly used to address low-back and sacral region pain. It is composed of two parallel strips along the paraspinals with a perpendicularly-oriented strip (blue tape) over the area of greatest discomfort.
Low-Back Pain Application
Each parallel strip’s paper backing is torn 1-2 inches from one end of the tape. The client is placed in gentle, supported trunk flexion for application of these strips. Paper-off tension is used. The perpendicular strip is torn in the center. The paper backing is peeled back to 1-2 inches from each end, and the exposed tape is laid down as one piece onto the skin over the area of greatest discomfort (figure 1). The paper backings are removed without any tension applied to the ends of the tape as shown (figure 2).
The H-archetype may also be used for cervico-thoracic region pain by simply changing the location of the application.
Baby Belt Application
Increased ligamentous laxity during pregnancy contributes to relative instability of the lumbo-sacral complex. Pelvic girdle pain (PGP) refers to pain in the low back, groin, pubic region and thighs. It is often described as shooting, stabbing, burning and catching in nature. There may be radiation into the thighs with tingling, numbness and feelings of instability.
Pain may become more pronounced with walking, climbing stairs, standing on one leg and other daily activity. PGP can begin as early as the first trimester and may persist for several weeks after delivery.
This spiral shaped application may allow for slight unloading of the abdomen and relief of pressure to the back and pelvic girdle. Begin by measuring two long strips of tape from just inside the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS), diagonally up and across the belly, around the side of the body to the opposite posterior shoulder. Apply these strips with paper-off tension. To make this a more robust, supportive application, especially for a mother with a more protruding belly, add vertical strips up and down as shown (figure 4).
Both the lower and upper portions of this application may be used independently — the lower portion to address PGP/low-back pain, and the upper portion to address upper-back pain.
Belly Sling Application
This application is especially helpful for supporting the lower belly and helping mitigate round ligament pain. The round ligament attaches from the pubic mound to near the top of the uterus. It helps to position the uterus. As the uterus enlarges during pregnancy, the round ligament becomes increasingly taut. This may result in spasms and pain in the groin and lower abdominals as a pregnant woman moves.
The picture (figure 6) shows a low baby sling application. To apply, tear the tape in the center and peel back the paper. Apply the center of the tape to the mid belly as shown, then bring both sides of the tape up and around with the intention of providing a gentle lift to the belly. Be sure to apply the last 1-2 inches of each end without any additional tension.
Additional strips of tape may be added adjacently for additional support. Similar strips of tape may also be applied at the mid and upper belly as well, depending on what is comfortable for the mother.
Alternative Torso/SIJ Taping Techniques
Over the course of the pregnancy, skin may become increasingly sensitive and taut. Skin tolerance may diminish to larger pieces of tape, so utilizing a jellyfish archetype may become increasingly helpful.
Jellyfish allow for a large region to be affected with smaller strips of tape. The pictures below show jellyfish being applied to the lateral trunk (figure 7) and sacroiliac (figure 8) regions to help mitigate pain. This archetype may be used anywhere discomfort occurs, including in place of the 2-inch strips of each of the applications presented thus far.
Ankle Swelling Application
Hormonal changes may result in excessive fluid retention. This may manifest itself as swelling and discomfort in the ankles and feet. The jellyfish archetype is a useful application to help address these issues.
Cut 2 or more jellyfish in the manner shown (figure 9). Lay them down on the skin with about one centimeter of distance between tentacles. Have the tentacles form a basket over the swollen area.
Carpal Tunnel Application
Fluid may also accumulate in the carpal tunnel of the wrist/hand complex resulting in symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. These may include numbness, tingling and pain in the hand and fingers.
Position the wrist into comfortable extension, then apply a strip of tape along the course of the forearm and into the hand as shown (figure 10). You may cut Ys into the tape at either end for greater comfort, or just use an uncut strip of tape.
For the second piece, tear the paper mid-tape, apply gentle stretch to the center of the tape, and lay it down over the carpal tunnel as shown. Apply the ends with paper-off tension.
Try Taping Techniques
Kinesiology tape is an incredibly versatile tool that may be used in conjunction with massage therapy and IASTM to further promote comfort and wellness to pregnant women. Taping techniques may be stacked with other modalities and be combined and modified to best serve each woman’s individual needs. Kinesiology taping provides one more tool for massage therapists to further serve and care for their pregnant clientele.
About the Author
Jessica Hill, DPT, CSCS, SFMA, FMS, FRC, is a doctor of physical therapy with 18 years of clinical experience in general orthopedics and sports medicine. She has a concierge and virtual physical therapy practice based in New York City and is a Functional Movement Techniques instructor for RockTape USA.