How to Use Kinesiology Tape for Shoulder Pain?

The shooting pain you feel up and down your arm, the pain that makes the entire day since the moment you wake up just slightly more unbearable. It is the shooting pain that makes sitting at your desk awkward. The nagging sensation that makes you question returning to the gym to get your daily workout in. It is not bad enough that it requires surgery but not well enough that you feel confident in your daily routine. What is essential is that there are tools to help and the use of Kinesiology tape to help soothe and heal shoulder pain.

What brought on the painful condition can be as simple as sleeping in an awkward position; if you are a parent, a nap with your child lying against the shoulder might cause a slightly miss-aligned joint. Then there is a fault in technique while working out or even an overpowered jerking motion that might cause the articulation and the surrounding tissue to tear and injure. 

While the cause of the pain can vary depending on the person’s lifestyle, as long as the injury is deemed treatable at home, it does not require surgery. Once that has been established, the application of sports medicine, such as the R.I.C.E method and the use of Kinesiology or K-tape, can increase the speed of healing. Athletic tape works by providing support and stability to complicated shoulder articulation. 

The Anatomy of the Shoulder

The shoulder is made up of several independent muscles, bones, and articulating ligaments that allow for a full circular motion. The shoulder is composed of two joints where the acromion, part of the shoulder blade, a.k.a the scapula, is located in the same area as the collarbone, aka clavicle, and the glenohumeral joint, where the humeral head, aka the ball and socket, meet.

The ligaments are the Glenohumeral, Coraco-acromial, Croaco-clavicular, Transverse Hume ligaments. These ligaments join bone to muscle, allowing the shoulder to produce its seven movements.

7 Movements of the Shoulder

  • Adduction: the movement of a limb or other part towards the body’s midline or another part.
  • Abduction: the movement of a limb or other part away from the midline of the body or another part
  • Flexion: the action of bending or the condition of being bent, especially bending a limb or joint.
  • Extension: the action or process of enlarging or extending something.
  • Internal Rotation: internal rotation (also known as medial rotation) is an anatomical term referring to rotation towards the center of the body.
  • External Rotation: external rotation involves rotating it away from the front side of your torso. 
  • 360-degree circular motion in the sagittal plane (spin the arm around)

Thanks to its complex structures and injuries sustained to the shoulder, even the most simple pains can quickly turn into complicated injuries. Understanding what motion hurts allows for a quick diagnosis and what treatment should be applied. 

Most Common Injuries

Shoulder injuries are some of the most common injuries a sports enthusiast can sustain. In baseball, the exhaustion while throwing a ball. In martial events where opponents are constantly swept off their feet or thrown over a hip, falling onto the shoulder joint is commonplace. While sports injuries make up the most common forms, it is not uncommon for household accidents to produce the same form of injuries. 

Most Common Shoulder Injuries

  • Sprains and strains: These injuries can occur when a backward force is placed on the arm and stretches the shoulder ligaments. The pressure placed on the shoulder causes the ligaments to stretch and tear. Other common causes for a strain or sprain can be a fall or a direct hit to the shoulder. 
  • Dislocations: AKA anterior dislocation. It usually occurs with posterior humerus force or falling with an outstretched arm. When in movies, the protagonist falls and stands up holding his arm and then unassisted pops into place, it is this injury they suffer.
  • Separations: The A.C. joint separation, often referred to as a shoulder separation, is a dislocation of the clavicle from the acromion. This injury occurs when someone receives a blow to the shoulder or a fall to an outstretched arm. This is common in sports that include speed, hockey, figure skating, rollerblading, skateboarding, and even surfing.
  • Tendinitis: This results from a sports injury induced by overuse of the tendons. It can also be considered a severe injury from sudden separation or dislocation. Tennis, volleyball, boxing, and powerlifting are all sports that require repetitive use of the shoulder muscle. Constant muscle use deteriorates the fibers, which in turn hurts the joint. 
  • Bursitis: Bursitis is excess fluids in the bursa, aka the cushioning between bones and the tissue joints.
  • Torn Rotator Cuffs: The rotator cuff comprises a group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder. The rotator cuff keeps the head of the upper arm firmly within the socket of the shoulder. A rotator cuff injury can feel like a dull ache in the shoulder that usually worsens at night. This type of injury can become worse with age.
  • Frozen shoulder: When the connective tissue encompassing the shoulder joint thickens and tightens. The further thickening produces a form of adhesive capsulitis that stiffen the joint and causes pain in the shoulder. Over time the articulation makes it challenging to move. The condition will usually improve within 1 to 3 years.
  • Broken Bones (fractures): A fracture of the bones that make up the shoulder can cause severe pain and hinder the mobility of the articulation. These are usually the result of some form of a car accident, sports injury, or any direct blow to the shoulder.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis is the deterioration or damage to the cartilage within the shoulder joint. Arthritis occurs when the flexible material starts wearing down on the ball or socket sides of the shoulder joint. It can affect your long-term range of motion.  

The colorful adhesive and elastic tape made their way into the everyday sports medicine conversation after the London Olympics held in 2012. While it had been in use since the 1970s, the tape showcased its use as the world’s best athletes adorned their bodies with it and performed at their peak. When asked why they used the colorful tapes, the most common answer was that it was treating an injury or preventing one.

The tape’s creator Dr. Kenzo Kase, a Japanese Chiropractor who treated high-level athletes, would constantly be faced with a complicated situation. His clients would often need to continue training despite being injured. Many athletes do not have the luxury of stopping as competition deadliness approach.

At the time, the only tapes available were intended to immobilize the injury to allow for healing. Immobilization was the last thing the athletes wanted; several would forgo the treatment and train while injured. Dr. Kase developed the tape to be elastic and breathable by combining cotton and nylon. The tape also included a powerful adhesive that contained a medical linament anti-inflammatory that helped control the pain. 

The application of the tape is simple once the injury is identified. Several strips are cut from the tape. The lengths have different functions, and while some work as anchors, other strips bring support and stability to the injury. Not only does the tape bring relief and allow the user to perform and train. The tape also provides the athlete with constant feedback and awareness of their injury. The application of the tape meant they became careful and, while doing an exercise, worked to avoid making their injury worse. 

The body’s first response to an injury is to flood the area with fluids to produce swelling. Once the fluids protect the area, the body will raise the temperature to produce a fever and fight off infection. The pain receptors are constantly firing to remind the person to keep off the injury.

Kinesiology sports tape primarily focuses on fighting off inflammation. Once the tape is applied to the shoulder, the adhesive pulls on the skin, opening blood flow to the affected area. That is the simple gist of it. It only gets more complicated once you consider the tape’s pressure on the area between the joints. The pressure opens up a small gap that allows the body to flow, bringing oxygen to the articulation. The pressure allows the blood and the lymphatic fluid to help cleanse and correct the inflammation without surgery. Finally, it helps improve circulation, allows internal injury to heal, supports muscle, and prevents muscle injury.

The tape application can vary depending on the injury, and the shoulder has several tape configurations. There are several resources online, and it is always a good idea to consult with a doctor or physical therapist in case of doubt on how to best use it.

Quick Application Guide

  • Define the proper tape application.
  • Cut the strips to the proper length.
  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Trim or shave excess hair.
  • Apply tape.
  • Rub vigorously to warm the adhesive and activate the glue.
  • The tape can last up to five days applied to the skin.

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