Caption: Dr. Kenzo Kase applies Kinesio Tape to a horse. Images provided by Kinesio Taping Association International.
Many people first noticed the use of brightly colored Kinesio Tape during the recent 2012 London Olympics, where it adorned the abdomens of volleyball players, striped the shoulders of pole vaulters, and crisscrossed the clavicles of divers. What might have seemed like some odd, new, fashion accessory is actually a therapeutic modality that many athletes swear by.
Dr. Kenzo Kase, a Japanese practitioner, licensed acupuncturist, and chiropractor, created this Kinesio Tex Tape in the 1980s in response to the limitations he encountered with traditional athletic sports tape. While the old styles of tape were stiff and inflexible, intended to immobilize the affected joint, Kase’s new tape mimics the elasticity of human skin and helps to optimize muscle function and joint stability. Proponents of Kinesio Tex Tape say this elastic, textile-like tape can help prevent injury, re-educate the neuromuscular system, and reduce pain. (Kinesio Taping)
Fast forward to 2013, and this unique form of therapy is now being used to help our favorite four-legged athletes. We had the chance to speak with Italy-based Sybille Molle, DVM, CERT, CTKI, who is one of the lead equine instructors and developers of the Kinesio Equine Program.
“I have used this on horses personally since the beginning of 2010,” Molle says. “The education program for [taping] horses only started in August 2012 with the first official KTA [Kinesio Taping Association] course in Austria. Many courses are being organized worldwide for 2013.”
“I mostly treat competion horses, but companion horses can also benefit from the use of Kinesio Tape. It depends on the problem and the diagnosis. We mostly know [about] the tape by having seen it on athletes, but the greatest use of it is on normal people in their everyday lives.”
Molle explains that the application of Kinesio Tex Tape affects five major physiological compartments of the body: skin, fascia, muscles, joints, and the lymphatic system. The technique used to apply the tape depends on what therapeutic effect you are trying to achieve.
“A muscle inhibition application can help in reducing the overload on a fatigued or overused muscle,” she says. “A ligament correction can assist in joint stability. The combination of the different application techniques will have a therapeutic effect, but all must be based on a clinical diagnosis.”
An official Kinesio Taping practitioner should be sought out if a person (or horse) wishes to obtain the best treatment results. There aren’t many practitioners trained in Kinesio Tape application on horses at this time, but Molle says numerous training courses are being set up for 2013.
Although the idea behind using Kinesio Tape on both humans and horses is basically the same, the practical application differs slightly. One might imagine that applying a flexible tape to a hair-covered animal could create a sticky situation. However, Molle says it is for this very reason that Kinesio Tape works especially well on horses.
“The adhesion can be affected, but the action is carried out through the hair to the hair follicle and surrounding sensitive structures achieve an even more effective action compared to human skin,” she says.
“The tape can stay on up to three to four days, but it’s not always the case. It depends on the horse’s hairs, the temperature and weather condition, the type of exercise the horse does, and where the tape has been applied. Many factors can affect the duration of the tape application. Also, the number of times and the frequency of application depends on many factors, such as the problem you are treating, the individual response to the application, and the purpose for which tape is applied.”
Why would you choose to use Kinesio Tape on a horse? Molle says it depends on a variety of different factors including the problem the horse suffers from, the anatomical diagnosis that has been made, and the treatment being used in conjunction with tape application. While the lines of tape sometime correspond to different muscle groups, this is not always the case.
As with other nontraditional forms of therapy, there are skeptics. They believe the tape probably works as a result of the placebo effect, where the person wearing the tape believes it’s doing more good than it actually is. Molle says she understands this argument, because she used to be a skeptic herself.
“Skeptics are always useful,” she says. “I was one of them, and now I am the first veterinary instructor worldwide. Can you imagine? Science is now going forward, and [we are] able to measure and determine many effects of the tape. Regarding the placebo effect, I don’t think it can be considered in animals, even though some scientist say it exists. In my personal opinion, I think horses do not have any placebo effect, but riders do. That’s why I never tell the rider or the trainer exactly what I’m doing to the horse or what result I am expecting. [That's so I get] an answer that’s not influenced by my ideas.”
Now that Kinesio Tape is being used on horses, we wondered if it might work on other animals as well.
“It is used on dogs,” she says. “I know Dr Kase once used it on a fish! Wherever you have an indication for its use, it can be used, and its use is almost unlimited…”
If you would like more information about the developing field of Kinesio Equine Taping, click here to learn more by visiting the Kinesio Equine website.