If you’ve ever had a musculoskeletal injury before and have worked with a physical therapist for rehab, one of the various treatment modalities the physical therapist might have incorporated into your rehab program is KT tape, also known as Kinesio tape.
KT tape was once used almost exclusively by physical therapists and rehabilitation specialists with their patients but is now commercially available, and many recreational and competitive athletes buy it and apply it themselves.
There are different online tutorials to learn how to properly apply KT tape, but the average user is still often left with many questions about KT tape.
Can you shower with KT tape? Can KT tape get wet? How long does KT tape last? What are the advantages and disadvantages of KT tape?
In this article, we will discuss how to use KT tape, the benefits and the disadvantages, and answer other KT tape FAQs, such as if KT tape can get wet.
We will cover:
- What Is KT Tape?
- How Does KT Tape Work and What Are the Benefits of KT Tape?
- Can You Shower With KT Tape?
- How Long Does KT Tape Last?
- Drawbacks of KT Tape
Let’s get started!
What Is KT Tape?
KT tape, also called Kinesio tape, was originally developed in the 1970s by a Japanese chiropractor named Dr. Kenzo Kase. Dr. Kase aimed to create a product that would provide some amount of support without restricting movement in the way that regular medical tape does.
Using a proprietary blend of nylon and cotton, KT tape can stretch while remaining adhesive, mimicking the elasticity of human skin such that it doesn’t restrict movement.
Today, KT tape is used by recreational and professional athletes of all sports, typically appearing in various patterns along different joints, such as the knees, ankles, or shoulders, or extending along the shins, quads, or even the back.
KT tape is typically brightly colored, somewhat stretchy, and a couple of inches wide. It is applied in strips using deliberate patterns that are tailored to provide support to underlying structures, reduce swelling, decrease pain, improve posture, and improve proprioception for better movement control.
Although there isn’t a ton of conclusive evidence demonstrating the efficacy of KT tape in improving athletic performance or increasing recovery, many athletes still swear by it.
It is widely used in both professional rehabilitation settings and as an OTC aid self-applied to allow an athlete to continue exercising when there is some amount of pain, instability, or musculoskeletal issue.
How Does KT Tape Work and What Are the Benefits of KT Tape?
Unlike traditional medical tape, KT tape is extremely stretchy.
The materials and design of the tape are intended to replicate the elasticities and stretch of normal skin so that even when it is applied in long strips spanning both sides of a joint or along the length of the shin, quad, or back, you still have your full range of motion without limitations in the movements you can perform.
The top side of the tape is highly stretchy and elastic, while the surface that contacts your skin is a medical-grade adhesive that adheres securely to your tissue.
Here are some of the potential benefits of KT tape:
#1: Improving Circulation
The benefits provided by KT tape are thought to occur because when the tape is applied in strips along your body, the stretchy nature of the material causes the tape to recoil or retract somewhat, gently lifting your skin up and away from the facia and underlying tissues.
This microscopic space allows for increased blood circulation, which can help deliver oxygenated blood and nutrients to tissues in need of healing and can help flush away waste products. In some ways, this lifting of the skin is similar to how healing modalities like cupping work.
Cupping and KT tape both create a small amount of space between the skin and underlying tissues to potentially aid healing.
Creating this space between the skin and underlying tissue not only improves blood flow to the skin, fascia, and muscles but can also improve the circulation of lymphatic fluid.
Although often overlooked, the lymphatic system plays a key role in reducing inflammation by not only decreasing fluid buildup in tissues but also by delivering white blood cells and other immune cells to fight the causes of inflammation.
There isn’t much evidence to substantiate this effect of KT tape specifically, but it is a theory that makes sense in principle.
#2: Decreasing Joint Irritation
Additionally, studies have demonstrated that KT tape can increase the space in the joints when it is applied in specific manners.
By increasing the space in a joint, KT tape is thought to decrease joint irritation and inflammation and improve mobility.
#3: Providing Support
KT tape also provides some amount of support and stability in the way that traditional athletic tape does.
For example, trainers have long used athletic tape to stabilize the ankles and knees of athletes who have sprained ligaments and need auxiliary support during exercise while the overstretched ligaments heal.
In much the same way, KT tape can’t provide extra structural support for weakened or injured ligaments, but unlike traditional athletic tape, which is fairly inelastic, KT tape does not limit motion, so it doesn’t confer quite as much rigid structural stability to a joint.
#4: Decreasing Pain Signals and Trigger Points
Although there isn’t a significant amount of evidence to substantiate this point, some physical therapists believe that KT tape also works by decreasing pain signals to the body.
By lifting the skin up and off of the underlying tissue, the nociceptors, or pain receptors, in the skin, fascia, and superficial layers of the muscles become less compressed.
As pressure is alleviated from these sensory receptors, fewer pain signals may be relayed through the nervous system to the brain, decreasing the sensation or magnitude of pain.
One small study did indicate that KT tape, when used in conjunction with manual therapy, seemed to reduce trigger point pain and increase flexibility.
Trigger points are thought to be areas of the body where the signals sent by the pain receptors are elevated, usually due to compression on these sensory receptors, often eliciting a compensatory tightening of the surrounding tissue, creating knots or adhesions, further exacerbating the compression on the pain receptors.
Can You Shower With KT Tape?
The most common questions about KT tape are “Can I shower with KT tape?” and “Can KT tape get wet?”
The good news is that the answer to both of these questions is yes. You can shower with KT tape, and KT tape can get wet, whether from sweat, swimming, showering, running in the rain, or any other means.
The medical-grade adhesive is designed to be water resistant, and even though the top portion, made from the stretchy blend of nylon and cotton, will absorb some amount of water when it gets wet, it will dry out and retain its original integrity.
This means that KT tape will continue to provide the intended support and natural elasticity even if it gets wet.
After you shower or swim with KT tape, dab the tape dry with a towel. You may feel some amount of moisture, but it should dry in a few hours.
How Long Does KT Tape Last?
Because KT tape is made with medical grade adhesive and a high-quality stretchy nylon/cotton blend, KT tape can usually last for several days, depending on where it is placed on your body and how often you work out and take a shower.
Most users can expect a single application of KT tape to last 3 to 5 days.
Drawbacks of KT Tape
KT tape is generally thought to be safe for most individuals. However, if you have any open wounds, you should not use KT tape in these areas. Additionally, if you have particularly thin, fragile, or sensitive skin, you should not use KT tape without testing the tape on a small area of skin first.
Additionally, if you have diabetes or are undergoing cancer treatments, you should consult your doctor before using KT tape.
Another drawback of KT tape is that it is fairly expensive and needs to be applied properly to be effective.
Although there are online videos and tutorials that demonstrate how to use KT tape for different joints and musculoskeletal problems, getting it applied by a trained professional such as a physical therapist or athletic trainer is ideal.
It’s also important to note that KT tape is not a cure-all. Applying a bunch of aggressive strips of KT tape around an injured knee or ankle, for example, in order to try to run through pain or play sports when you have an injury, is not a good idea.
Just because you are using KT tape as part of your rehab does not mean that you no longer need to prioritize listening to your body.
Overall, trying KT tape when you have some sort of minor joint or muscle pain, ligament injury, or pulled muscle, should be safe and may potentially reduce swelling and discomfort while still allowing you to be physically active.
For optimal results, work with a physical therapist to learn how to properly use KT tape, and do not rely solely on KT tape for joint support under circumstances of acute injuries.