Patients frequently ask me about the purpose of colorful tape worn by athletes on their shoulders, elbows, knees and other areas during the competition. It turns out that this look is more than “just a fashion statement!” Medical researchers have studied and published on this topic to assess its value.
The tape worn by competitive athletes is called Kinesio Tape (KT). It has become very popular in athletes using repeated overhead use of their shoulder as in volleyball, basketball and tennis. It is also used for other joints and muscles such as elbow, wrist, knee, calf and ankle. It is a special flexible tape designed to mimic the qualities of human skin. KT is very different that other forms of athletic tape. It is latex free with acrylic adhesive that is heat activated. It can be worn in the shower or pool. The cotton fibers allow for quick drying and evaporation and can be worn for 3-4 days. KT is approximately the same thickness as skin and can be stretched 30% to 40% of its length at rest.
Some reports propose that the tape has several benefits. It provides stimulation of the muscles and tissues that support the shoulder, improves space in the joint to limit pain and inflammation from impingement, and improves sensory stimulation to improve coordinated movement of the arm. Studies have found that those athletes using KT on the shoulder reported significantly less pain with overhead activities as compared to a sham tape application. No differences were reported in range of motion or ability to perform daily activities.
Impingement – when one or more of the rotator cuff muscles gets pinched between two bones. This is very common and very painful especially when you attempt to raise your hand over your head.
Rotator Cuff Tear – the rotator cuff is made up of muscles which hold the joint together. A rotator cuff can become torn (partially or fully) due to trauma such as falling on the shoulder or following wear and tear from years of overhead activities. Rotator cuff tears are common both in athletes and in the older population.
Rotator Cuff Tendonitis – inflammation of one or more of the rotator cuff tendons is often caused by overuse. Repetitive overhead activities can cause this problem.
Bursitis – inflammation of a fluid filled sack that tries to lubricate and protect the shoulder from impingement.
This is just a partial list of some of the more common problems, which can result in shoulder pain from impingement. All of these conditions are uniquely different and need to be treated differently. Some of these conditions respond well to oral medications, others to injection, others to physical therapy and still others may need surgery. If you have shoulder pain that lasts for more than three days or you notice that you cannot raise your hand over your head, you need to see either your family doctor or an orthopedic surgeon.
Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – every Monday next week “Frozen Shoulder”
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.