Therapeutic taping can help your equine through rehabilitation, training and injury prevention.
You’ve probably seen horses with colorful tape applied to their bodies, either in pictures or at your barn. Called therapeutic elastic tape, this tape is much more than decoration. It was only brought to the forefront of athletic therapy during the 2012 summer Olympics, but therapeutic taping has been successfully used in rehabilitation, training and injury prevention for more than 20 years.
Dr. Kenzo Kase is a chiropractor and acupuncturist who wanted something for his human clients to use between appointments to increase the efficacy of manual therapy and create lasting results. He developed the therapeutic taping method in 1979. First introduced to North America and Europe in the 1990s, therapeutic taping has become a staple in many massage and physical therapy practices, and is widely used by athletes and healthcare professionals. In more recent years, kinesiotape has made its way into the equestrian community.
When we look at the body from a physiological perspective, we can understand that the function of muscles doesn’t end with movement. Muscles also control the circulation of the venous and lymphatic flows. If the muscles fail to function properly, it causes various kinds of symptoms beyond muscle tenderness. Hypertonicity of muscle tissue can increase fatigue; reduce the ability of the lymphatic system to remove toxins and metabolic by-products from the tissues; reduce joint range of motion; cause body misalignment; and predispose an athlete to strain and injury.
What is therapeutic elastic tape?
Therapeutic elastic tape is a latex-free elastic tape designed to provide soft tissue and joint support, without restricting range of motion. It is designed to work with the body’s own natural healing mechanisms through activation of the neurological and circulatory systems. Unlike other athletic tapes, kinesiotape does not compress the tissue, but instead works by lifting and stretching the tissues, thereby decompressing, facilitating circulation, reducing inflammation, impacting pain receptors under the skin, and assisting movement.
When properly applied, kinesiotape can be used for a multitude of purposes, from reducing chronic pain to tendon strain recovery.
Uses and effects of therapeutic taping
After an injury, vascular channels become compromised by the pressure caused by inflammation, bruising, edema accumulation, and fluid stasis. The lifting action of therapeutic tape, when properly applied, decompresses these vascular channels, providing a continuous enhancing effect on the circulatory system, increasing lymphatic drainage, and reducing inflammation. This lifting action also decreases the pressure on pain and sensory receptors under the skin, providing much-needed pain relief.
Muscle and joint support
During a therapeutic tape application, the mechanical lift provided by the elasticity of the tape is used to encourage muscle relaxation, strengthening and support. This benefits muscles that are hypertonic, tense or atrophied, as well as the joints the target muscles are responsible for engaging.
Fascial restrictions and trigger points
Fascia is the connective tissue webbing that is found on and within skin, muscle, tendon, ligament, nerves and organs. It’s like a glue connecting all the tissues within the body. The fascia itself may easily develop restrictions that lead to hypertension of the underlying muscle tissue, along with pain and tenderness. A trained therapeutic taping practitioner can use the recoil and lifting properties of the tape to move and reposition fascia, and to create a pull and release where the fascia is tight.
Injury prevention and performance enhancement
Therapeutic taping increases blood flow and circulation. Blood is the transport system of our bodies and delivers much-needed nutrients and oxygen to our tissues so they can thrive and function. During exercise, demands on muscle and tendon structures are increased, thereby increasing the oxygen requirements of the tissues. The increased circulation effects of a therapeutic tape application gives the body the ability to more efficiently deliver necessary oxygen to tissues, and provides more effective removal of the metabolic wastes that build up within the tissue during exercise. This enhancement of the body’s natural biological processes increases the working capacity of the muscles, promotes greater endurance, reduces post-exercise fatigue, lessens recovery time after an event, and prevents muscle and tendon strain or re-injury.
As with any athletes, horses will at some point experience lameness caused by accidents, overuse or fatigue. Rehabilitation is needed in the form of carefully monitored stall rest, hand walking, hydrotherapy, and physical therapy. Therapeutic taping provides the damaged tissue with a consistent level of stabilization and support, giving muscles and ligaments a chance to rebuild and restore by taking pressure off those areas that have been worked on manually.
As with any therapy, choosing the right person to apply this technique to your horse is very important. Your therapeutic taping practitioner should have a strong background in equine health and wellness (most courses require you to have a related degree or license in order to become certified in this technique). Visit equi-tape.com or equinology.com for practitioners or course information in your area.