Kinesio vs. McConnell Taping: Which is right for you?

Katrin Holtwick of Germany is taped during the London 2012 Olympic women's beach volleyball match between Germany and Czech Republic.

Shoulder pain is experienced by athletes at all levels and can be aggravated by something as simple as raising your arm or throwing. There are different therapies used to relieve shoulder pain. One such method, therapeutic taping (remember the colorful tape you‘ve seen athletes using at the Olympics and other sporting events?) continues to grow in popularity. But is all taping created equal?

Recently Billy Moore, PT, DPT, one of our outpatient physical therapists, helped present a study on the effectiveness of two specific taping methods in high school athletes. The study, part of his capstone project at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, took a look at 11 local athletes at Archbishop John Carroll High School in Radnor who were experiencing pain in their shoulder. The students came from baseball, softball, volleyball and lacrosse, all sports that require participants to use an overhead shoulder motion.

Two popular taping methods were tested, the Kinesio Taping Method and the McConnell Taping Technique. “While comparisons of these two methods have been done for knee and lower body injuries, there has been less research done on shoulder injuries—particularly those in high school age athletes,” notes Billy. “This study looked to not only compare the effectiveness of the two taping techniques to one another, but also to not using taping at all.”

You’ve probably seen Kinesio Taping—strips of bright, colorful tape on the arms, legs and torsos of athletes. It’s a lightweight tape applied along muscles, ligaments and tendons of athletes recovering from injuries.

You may be less familiar with McConnell Taping, which is more rigid and much less flexible than Kinesio Tape (less colorful too). McConnell is seen by many as the gold standard of taping for knee pain and injuries, though is less used for injuries of the shoulder.

“We used the two types of tape on our athletes and compared pain levels with each,” says Billy. “Athletes completed three activities—an overhead volleyball serve, an overhead baseball throw and lifting a weighted box overhead.”

Each athlete’s pain was assessed during their functional activities with no tape, McConnell Tape and Kinesio Tape. Pain levels were obtained following completion of three trials of each activity. The results?

“We saw significant improvement with both tapes compared to not taping,” says Billy. “In addition, the McConnell Taping technique decreased pain levels across all three functional activities. Kinesio Taping technique decreased pain levels during the baseball throwing activity.”

While Kinesio Taping exhibited some positive impact on pain during all activities, it was only significant for the baseball throw activity. The data demonstrated that both taping techniques have short-term positive impacts on pain levels during functional activities.

But why? How do these taping techniques work? Kinesio claims that the tape “creates neuromuscular feedback that relaxes or facilitates stronger firing of muscles and tendons,” thus giving the muscle group support without the bulk of wraps or bracing. McConnell, meanwhile, claims to aid in muscle alignment to decrease pain. Thus far, formal, randomized trials have proven to be less conclusive in determining the specific benefits of either technique. Still, the stimulation of the taping on the shoulder has shown to benefit athletes—even if it’s just a placebo effect.

While not formally measured, comfort at rest—when the athletes were not engaged in the functional activities—was also discussed with study participants. “The McConnell Tape was not as comfortable as Kinesio Tape at rest,” notes Billy. McConnell Taping is much more rigid and less flexible. This may perhaps explain why you see more athletes using Kinesio Taping during competition.

So what can we take away from this study? While the sample size is small, the findings may be useful for clinicians treating high school athletes for shoulder pain, from rotator cuff issues to shoulder impingement syndrome. Both methods are used by physical therapists and athletic trainers, though experience with these techniques is necessary to maximize results.

Marty Kelley is an advanced clinician and site manager for Penn Therapy & Fitness at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. He is the past-president of the American Society of Shoulder and Elbow Therapists. He writes about therapy technology and new research.

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