Knee Taping

Patella, or kneecap, pain is very common in both athletic and sedentary people. Many factors can cause anterior knee pain (pain in the front of the knee), such as tightness of the muscles and tendons (structures that attach muscle to bone) around the kneecap, weakness of the leg muscles, and abnormal movement of the kneecap while bending and straightening the knee. Typically, physical therapy that includes stretching and strengthening is prescribed for patients with this type of pain. Along with these exercises, bracing or knee taping may be prescribed. One method of taping the kneecap was developed by Jenny McConnell, a physical therapist in Australia, who found that moving or repositioning the kneecap into better alignment often reduces pain (Fig.).

When should the knee be taped?
During an evaluation called "tracking," the patient bends and straightens the knee while the health care professional determines if the patella is moving along the correct path and is positioned correctly in front of the knee. Additionally, the patient is asked to perform common activities, such as squatting and walking up and down stairs, to determine if the kneecap pain can be reproduced. Abnormal positioning or tracking may indicate that tight tissues on the outside of the thigh are pulling the kneecap toward the outside of the knee, in which case taping may help to realign the kneecap.

One of the great benefits of knee taping is that it is a fairly simple procedure that can be taught to the patient. Within 15 to 20 minutes, the physical therapist or athletic trainer can teach the patient the taping technique. Another benefit is that knee taping usually provides immediate relief. The patient knows right away if the symptoms are reduced by the application of the tape. Several taping techniques are available, so different combinations can be tried to relieve pain.

Taping often helps to relieve the patient's discomfort and allow him or her to exercise with greater intensity.1,2 However, taping is not the cure; it's the exercise that provides a lasting benefit. In most cases, the kneecap is taped every day for 2 weeks. Then the patient is gradually weaned off by taping every other day or for only specific activities such as sports or work. The patient should not become dependent on the taping and should only use this procedure for temporary pain relief.

There are two types of tape that are applied to the patient's knee. The first tape applied is a white protective tape (Cover-Roll(r)), which is meant to provide a firm surface for the more adhesive brown tape. The adhesive brown tape should not be applied directly to the skin. The white tape best adheres to a smoothly shaven and non-oiled skin surface. If the skin becomes irritated from the tape, the patient should remove the tape and treat the skin with topical ointment, such as hydrocortisone cream.

Knee taping reduces pain during exercise while the exercise strengthens the muscles and tendons that stabilize the kneecap. Taping the knee is meant as a temporary solution to knee pain and should never replace the exercise that corrects the cause of the pain.

Timothy L. Uhl, Ph.D, A.T.C., P.T.
Lexington, Kentucky

References:
1. Bockrath K, et al. Effects of patella taping on patella position and perceived pain. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993;25(9):989-992.
2. Werner S, et al. Effect of taping the patella on concentric and eccentric torque and EMG of knee extensor and flexor muscles in patients with patellofemoral pain syndrome. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 1993;1(3):169-177.