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Kinesiology tape is typically applied with a small amount of stretch on the tape, but recommendations vary for how much stretch to apply.  Whilst the optimal amount of tape tension will most likely vary from person to person, a recent US study tried to compare the effect of different tape tensions on pain perception in a group of healthy university students.

The study utilised “Quantitative Sensory Testing” (QST), which is an evidence-based way of studying pain perception and relief with various interventions including physical to medication-based.  The QST techniques used in this particular study were: heat pain thresholds (HPT), pressure pain thresholds (PPT) and suprathreshold pressure pain stimulus (PPS).  HPT was applied with a thermal stimulus, engaging the cutaneous nociceptors.  PPT was applied to engage the cutaneous and subcutaneous nociceptors. PPS was a pressure stimulus applied at 125% of the participant’s PPT limit, designed to evoke “deep muscle pain”.

The study had 16 healthy participants, with an average age of 22.3 years.  They underwent four days of testing, with each testing day separated by 48 hours.  The researchers were looking at the HPT, PPT and PPS in four different conditions: no tape; tape applied without tension; tape applied with 25% tension; and tape applied with 75% tension.  The tested area was the ventral forearm and the order of the tested conditions was randomised.  The tape was in situ for approximately 15-20 minutes in total, with each condition being tested at baseline, then after taping (if applicable) after 5 minutes rest.  “Post-test 1” was then completed and then after 10 minutes further rest, “post-test 2” was completed.

The researchers found no significant difference in HPT across the different conditions.  The PPT scores were also not statistically significant across the different conditions.  The finding of significance was that the 25% tape tension condition showed a significant reduction in PPS, whereas the other tape conditions (no tension and 75% tension) had no significant pain-relieving effects. However, all taping conditions showed lower PPS scores overall, suggesting that tape with any tension may assist with sensitivity to deeper pressure pain.

These study findings suggest that the optimal tape tension for acute pain relief may be close to 25% tension.  The study only included measures with the tape in situ for 15-20 minutes, so it cannot be extrapolated to longer term applications.  Typically, kinesiology tape is recommended to be left on for 3-5 days, so it would be ideal to measure HPT, PPT and PPS for that period in future studies. Another limitation of the study is that it was performed with experimentally induced pain, rather than pain from pathology, however, it is very difficult to study a homogenous population with regards to pain from pathology.

Naugle, K.E., Hackett, J., Aqeel, D. & Naugle, K.M. (2021) Effect of different Kinesio tape tensions on

experimentally-induced thermal and muscle pain in healthy adults. PLOS One 16(11): e0259433