Understand how taping technique varies with geriatric patients.

The effects and benefits of kinesiology tape are numerous and applicable to a wide array of conditions and populations.

The geriatric community, those people age 65 and older, is no exception; however, being cautious and utilizing your best judgment on whether or not to tape are paramount.

It’s also critical to understand the affects that aging has on the skin, as well as the neurological aspect of touch, pain and proprioception regardless of activity levels.

On average, people 65 and older have three or more medical conditions, many of which involve chronic pain, according to the report, Chronic Conditions Among Medicare Beneficiaries, published by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Furthermore, movement-related difficulties such as loss of balance, coordination or proprioception are relatable conditions that may lead to falls.

Given that these types of conditions can significantly impact a senior clients’ activities of daily living, the benefits of using kinesiology tape in a massage treatment plan warrants a closer look.

Benefits of This Taping Technique

Studies have shown that applications of kinesiology tape to the skin increase lymphatic flow, decrease pain sensation, improve sensory awareness, decrease swelling and can help influence postural issues and movement patterns.

The skin and nervous system are formed from the same type of cell in-utero. Placing tape on the skin has an immediate stimulatory effect on the nerves that lie in the layers below and communicate with the brain via skin ligaments.

This stimulation of skin ligaments triggers a relay of information from the peripheral layer to the fascial layer, superficial muscles and joint capsules, creating a down-regulation of pain, management of fluid dynamics and increased proprioception.

As it pertains to fluid dynamics, swelling can result from an acute injury, surgical procedure, lymphatic conditions such as lymphedema or post-mastectomy, or from strenuous exercise. Using a basket-weave taping application in the area of swelling may influence lymph flow and circulation in the area, ultimately reducing fluid accumulation. The tape may also add a decompression effect, as well as influence movement patterns contributing to the speed in which one heals.

Clients with lymphedema have benefited from the use of kinesiology tape, as have clients recovering from mastectomy, as taping is an easily managed application compared with compression stockings or heavy bandaging.

Consulting with your client’s primary care physician in these circumstances is vital prior to taping.

The pain mitigation provided by kinesiology taping is another benefit to the client. Pain alters the way we move. Even old injuries that are void of pain sensation can dictate movement patterns based on the memory of initial injury, no matter how long ago it occurred.

In instances of chronic pain, the brain will often smudge the area, leaving the client with a non-discrete location, but rather an overall sense of discomfort and a significant loss of awareness in the area.

This can ultimately lead to loss of range of motion, repetitive injury or compensatory patterns elsewhere, due to the lack of sensory feedback.

Acute pain, often the result of injury, can be effectively managed with decompression taping, thus having a direct effect on movement patterns and the ability for them to be correctly influenced.

The Neurosensory Effect

The neurosensory effect of kinesiology tape is of great interest as it pertains to the declining physical abilities and propensity of falls among this population.

According to David Linden, Ph.D., author of Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind, we lose roughly one percent of our tactile touch annually, starting around the age of 18.

As the density of receptors at the peripheral level decrease and the myelin sheaths of nerve endings gradually degrade, the likelihood and frequency of falling—as well as our ability to quickly process touch, pressure, temperature, pain and vibration—is greatly reduced. In addition to the physical consequences of change in spatial awareness and perception, the emotional sense of wellbeing often declines as people begin to lose the full experience of their senses.

However, in a study titled “Retention of high tactile acuity throughout the life span in blindness,” conducted in 2008 by Legge and colleagues, it was observed that blind braille readers, unlike sighted readers, did not experience decline with age on a 2-D haptic test, suggesting that extensive tactile experiences may be able to overcome the typical declination of somatosensory input.

Taking this information into consideration as it applies to our manual therapies, we can consider that frequency of touch can have a positive effect on preserving or slowing down the loss of sensory input and processing at the peripheral level. This contribution to sensory awareness in our senior clients can potentially have significant impacts on balance, posture, motor control, coordination, stability and tactile acuity.

For example, a tape application on the bottom of the foot or on the ankle can contribute to renewed proprioception to the area, producing a potentially greater control in gait, balance or coordination.

Similarly, chronic postural collapse into flexion, as is often seen in the older population, can be addressed with simple stabilization strips on the back. While each scenario and assessment will aid in your determination for application, these are two common approaches.

Not all clients can afford the luxury of daily or weekly massage for frequent touch stimulus; however, by bringing kinesiology tape into your treatment strategy, you can extend the effectiveness of your work for several days.

All clients with any medical conditions and prior injuries should consult their primary care physician and receive clearance regarding the use of tape in their managed care.

Contraindications for Geriatric Patients

Taping applications for seniors differs by way of using a gentler version of tape and understanding certain contraindications to taping at all. A test patch of tape should always be applied before proceeding with any further applications.

A four- to six-inch strip on the forearm for 24 hours is sufficient for observation of any skin irritations. If any itchiness, redness, swelling or otherwise irritating response is experienced, discontinue the use of the tape.

Given the thinner quality of older skin, we need to be mindful of the adhesive both in the application and removal of the tape. Applying a thin layer of Milk of Magnesia to the area prior to taping produces a thin barrier that aids in a more gentle removal process.

Use a cotton ball to apply the liquid and allow it to dry before applying the tape. Additionally, choose a tape that has a gentler adhesive for sensitive skin.

With aging come certain ailments and health complications. It’s vital to know the conditions and scenarios in which kinesiology tape should never be used. In all instances, seek a working relationship with your senior clients’ primary care physician for the most successful outcomes.

Avoid taping if the following conditions are present:

  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Kidney problems, such as renal failure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • Aneurism
  • Open sores
  • Undiagnosed rashes or skin irritations
  • Fever
  • Extremely high blood pressure
  • Inability to communicate
  • Bed-ridden

Improved Response

While science is still inconclusive regarding the mechanisms through which tape produces change at the neurological level, we are seeing results in research settings that confirm its effectiveness on a tangible level.

To better serve your clientele, seek continuing education regarding how to use kinesiology tape with special populations such as seniors.

Taping is not a cure-all, but the argument can be made that by using kinesiology tape, we can potentially impact how the senior demographic responds to the world that their senses have otherwise dulled.

About the Author

Stacey Thomas, L.M.T., S.F.M.A., F.M.S., N.K.T., C.F.-L2, has been dedicated to human movement and athletic performance since 1997 and certified as a sports massage therapist since 2005. She holds certification in Functional Movement Screen, Selective Functional Movement Assessment, Neurokinetic Therapy and CrossFit Level 2, as well as other training and soft tissue modalities. She is credentialed by educational organizations regarding human movement and soft tissue treatment. You can find her in one of her three Front Range clinics treating athletes or teaching courses for RockTape.


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