The pain, sometimes prominent and sometimes not so much, was right there in my elbow for more than a year — the result of an imprudent attempt to impress my gym mates by doing hammer curls with a bit too much weight. I laid off the weights for a while, but that didn’t help. I stopped my pull-up routine, but saw no real improvement. I was relegated to only doing push-ups and a few other exercises that didn’t seem to enflame my elbow.
My last resort, which in hindsight should have been my first, was to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist to see what could be done to relieve my pain and get back to my regular exercise routine.
A trip to a sporting goods store for new sweatpants delayed that plan. A shelf stocked with various brands of brightly colored kinesiology tape piqued my interest. I didn’t know much about the product, but remembered seeing beach volleyball players’ bodies adorned with strips of the tape during the last Olympics. I pulled out my phone to read up on the tape and decided to give it a try. For me, it was a life-changing decision.
I followed the instructions from a YouTube video for applying kinesiology tape to relieve tennis elbow pain, and for the first time in a year my elbow was pain free. I was able to get back to my regular activities and exercise routine (minus the hammer curls, which I decided to discontinue) without the chronic pain that plagued me for so long.
Elated and intrigued by what so quickly transpired, I reached out to Sherry Steinbacher, OT, CHT, an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist, at the Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado Hospital to find out what happened to me.
What exactly does kinesiology tape do? How does it relieve pain?
I’ve been using kinesiology tape with patients for nearly 20 years and have seen great results, especially for treating ailments that are the result of repetitive motion or overuse, like tennis elbow. Because our lymphatic system is directly under the surface of our skin, kinesiology tape and the lines within the tape help lift the skin to promote lymphatic drainage. This drainage helps reduce inflammation, which results in pain relief.
Does it work in all cases?
It really depends on the severity and nature of the injury. It’s important to remember that a key part of the healing process is to not only wear the tape, but to also modify your activity. If you have a sprained muscle or tissue, you won’t have a chance to heal if you continue full activity. The best course is to wear the tape and limit your activity while your body heals.
Why does the tape come in different colors?
Colors were introduced a number of years ago as a way to provide patients with color therapy, which can sometimes aid in the healing process. Blue is a comforting, cool color, whereas red is viewed as a pick-me-up.
Should I apply it myself or should I work with a physical or occupational therapist?
The great thing about kinesiology tape is that it is so user friendly. There are many videos online from professionals about applying the tape, so you can do it at home. It’s also great to work with an occupational or physical therapist if you need more guidance or just aren’t comfortable starting out on your own, especially when it comes to harder-to-reach areas like the shoulder or back.
Steinbacher advises that if pain persists after taping, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your primary doctor to see if additional treatment with a physical or occupational therapist is needed to bring relief.
John Cihomsky is the vice president of public relations and communications for Sharp HealthCare.