by Valerie Pierzina, CESMT and Grains & Manes Equine Massage Therapy
While most complementary therapies are becoming widely accepted and commonplace in the equine industry, there is one that remains unknown to some or met with skepticism by others. This modality is Kinesiology taping. The practice of Kinesiology, and the unique tape itself was first developed in the 1970s by a revolutionary chiropractor from Japan named Kenzo Kase. He developed the tape with special elastic abilities, to provide support, yet allow for freedom of movement that encourages circulation. This was a drastic change of thought from conventional athletic tape which acted more as a brace to guard or restrict movement and applied constant pressure to the application site.
The tape’s effectiveness relies on proper application and technique, but when applied correctly it serves to support soft tissue and joints, reduce inflammation, decrease pain, increase proprioception and energy flow, and encourage recovery. This treatment is completely natural and there is no medication within the tape itself, however, the amount of support or pain relief it offers is dictated by the amount of stretch one puts in the tape. Kinesio-tape acts by decompressing the skin which will in turn prompt interaction between the neurosensory receptors which result in a decrease in the perception of pain. The longitudinal stretch placed in the tape will physically lift the hair and first layer of tissue in the fascia. This will signal increased circulation of the blood and lymph flow beneath. Together these actions result in added support for muscles and joints, reduced pain and discomfort, and faster healing time.
There are certain situations where I have found this treatment particularly beneficial and ideal to employ:
While physical manipulation is to be avoided on fresh injuries due to tenderness, heat and swelling, Kinesio- taping offers a gentle and effective method of controlling and reducing inflammation while also supporting the injured area. For example, I treated a horse at a show who had kicked the stall walls, causing injury to her tendons. After 20 minutes of Icing followed by Cold Laser treatment, the area was taped with a lattice Anti-Inflammation Taping to get ahead of the onset of inflammation.
I really appreciate Kinesio-tape’s ability to offer support and relief for the horse long after I leave the appointment. A common example of this is a horse with moderate or severe back pain. I can treat the horse with therapeutic massage, PEMF, and Cold Laser, but then I leave. Applying a Back-Pain Taping extends the treatment for that horse up to 5 more days and shortens the recovery time in the process.
Interesting too, engaging in movement while wearing Kinesio-tape stimulates nerves that signal the brain with an increased sense of awareness of movement and relation to surroundings. For this reason, Kinesio-taping is especially beneficial to horses with neurological conditions or those relearning proper movement and coordination during recovery from surgery or severe injury. Some trainers even, like to utilize a Proprioception Taping strictly for a horse to focus on form and function of movement during work.
Finally, some contraindications prevent the use of certain complementary therapies. Since Kinesio-tape is completely natural and non-invasive, I was able to offer an older pregnant mare the support and relief she needed to see through to a successful birth. Experiencing joint stiffness and weakness in her hind end, an extensive Hind-End and Back-Pain Taping combination gave her the support she needed to close out the final weeks comfortably. Upon foaling, she is ready for more intensive treatment options to assist recovery.
Kinesio-tape is common place now with human athletes, especially those involved in professional sports and Olympic level training. It’s use on horses though, is less widely observed. I would argue, however, given the sensitivity and unique ability of the horses’ cutaneous (think the ease of which they flick a fly off their back), equines are in fact ideal candidates for this form of complementary care and I have seen the possibility and success of it firsthand. As time continues to prove the benefits of Kinesiology, we will begin to see it utilized more on the equine athlete as well.