Kinesiology tape, or KT tape, is often used as a conservative treatment for pain relief and to support the joints to reduce the risk of injury and improve athletic performance.
It’s similar to regular athletic tapes that you often see in drugstores, but unlike them, KT tape is more elastic, waterproof, and comes in a variety of colors.
Carpal tunnel is a painful condition in your wrist where the median nerve is compressed in the narrow “tunnel” of the wrist.
Any compression to the nerve can cause a tingling and numb sensation or severe pain that can make holding a mug or pen difficult. Obviously, this can affect almost everything that you do that requires grip strength and hand and finger coordinations.
While some evidence suggests that having surgery to alleviate nerve compression is more effective for pain relief and function than conservative treatments (e.g. splinting, medication, steroid injections, physical therapy), some researchers warned that most of the studies are low quality.
These studies have different ways to set up the experiments, such as having different control groups, subjects, and bias from the researchers, which may lean in favor of surgeries.
Don’t confuse KT Tape with Kinesio Tape. Even so, there’s not much difference in how you apply the tape and which tape you use.
How do you use KT Tape to the wrist?
There are several ways to taping your wrist if you have carpal tunnel syndrome or other types of wrist pain.
What you’ll need: scissors, KT Tape (or regular athletic tape)
- Wash your forearm, wrist, and hand with soap and water.
- Measure the distance from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your fifth finger with your hands and fingers opened wide. That’s about how long the tape should be.
- Cut about 2 inches in the middle of the tape so that it forms a Y shape.
- Peel off the paper from the two ends of the Y. With your forearm and wrist extended, place one end of the tape at each side of the palm (thumb, pinkie). There should be no tape tension.
- Peel off the rest of the paper from the tape. Make sure there are no wrinkles on the tape as your peel.
- Extend your wrist as you pull the tape toward the crook of your forearm with about 20-25% tension.
- Smooth the tape along the forearm to keep the tape firm.
- Take a second KT Tape and cut it to about the length of your palm.
- Place the tape partially around your wrist from the lateral side (thumb) to the medial side (pinkie) with your hands and forearm facing up. There should be no tension in this tape.
There are several ways to tape your wrist and forearms for carpal tunnel. Check the website of KT Tape or whatever tape you use to see other options there are.
How do you remove KT Tape?
Peeling off the tape can be painful for some people, especially if you have low pain tolerance, hairy skin, or skin sensitivity. Following these guidelines may make removing KT Tape easier and less uncomfortable.
- Saturate the tape area with an oil-based lotion or cream.
- Gently peel the tape off away from your body to reduce the number of hair ripped from your arm (if you have hairy arms).
If you’ve had your tape on for about a week, it should also be easier to remove with no lotion or oil. If that’s still very uncomfortable or painful for you, use the lubricants.
Does KT Tape work for pain?
But overall, research finds that wrist taping has significant pain reduction with Kinesio Tape whether it’s used alone or with another intervention, as a 2021 literature review of 10 studies indicated. One issue the researchers found is that each study used a different set of comparisons, questionnaires and procedures, which can skew the review’s outcome.
While KT Tape and Kinesio Tape proponents say that the tape “lifts” the skin to alleviate pressure on the tissues beneath the skin, the narrative doesn’t agree with basic human physiology.
The pain relief you get from taping is more likely from how your nervous system (peripheral nerves under your skin, spinal cord, and brain) perceives the taping and other non-specific effects from manual therapy, such as therapeutic relationships, your expectations, and distractions.
Should you use KT Tape and other tapes?
Even if the effects of KT Tape or any kind of tape is mostly a placebo, physiotherapist and triathlete Paul Westwood warned that tape reliance could “promote the belief that their body is not good enough and they need an extrinsic factor (tape) to allow it to function.” He mentioned that the placebo effect might eventually wear off if the athlete relies too much on it.
Manual therapists who find taping — KT Tape, Kinesio Tape, or regular — useful should continue to use it, but they should be honest and transparent about how and why it might work for their patients.
KT Tape precautions
While there’s little risk in worsening your carpal tunnel or other types of wrist pain with KT Tape and other tapes, check with your physician or physical therapist if your condition worsens over time, even if you have tried taping and other conservative methods.
A native of San Diego for nearly 40 years, Nick Ng is an editor of Massage & Fitness Magazine, an online publication for manual therapists and the public who want to explore the science behind touch, pain, and exercise, and how to apply that in their hands-on practice or daily lives.
An alumni from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Graphic Communications, Nick also completed his massage therapy training at International Professional School of Bodywork in San Diego in 2014.
When he is not writing or reading, you would likely find him weightlifting at the gym, salsa dancing, or exploring new areas to walk and eat around Southern California.