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Knee Taping for Osteoarthritis

Knee Taping Reduces Stress and Strain on Soft Tissue

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Updated June 10, 2014

Knee taping is among the recommended treatment options for knee osteoarthritis, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Therapeutic knee taping has been shown to reduce pain and disability associated with knee osteoarthritis.

What Is Knee Taping?

Knee taping is the application and positioning of tape to align the knee in a more stable position. The improved alignment can reduce stress and strain on the soft tissues that surround the knee and improve osteoarthritis symptoms. Precise position of the tape is important to unloading or taking the burden away from specific components of the knee. Physiotherapists (more often called physical therapists in the United States) are trained in proper knee taping technique. Patients can be also be taught to self-manage the treatment.

How Does Knee Taping Reduce Pain?

While knee taping is recommended for some osteoarthritis patients, there is not a great deal of scientific evidence that supports the recommendation. It is believed that knee taping causes subtle changes to joint pressure that may also:

  • reduce strain on inflamed soft tissue around the knee
  • improve the patient's awareness of body position
  • improve quadricep muscle strength
  • help control the knee to prevent knee buckling or locking

Who May Be Helped by Knee Taping?

Knee taping is considered a simple, inexpensive treatment option for managing symptoms associated with knee osteoarthritis. Patients may consider knee taping if some of the conservative treatment options have failed them. Such options include:

Knee taping can also be used with other treatment options, such as osteoarthritis medications, hyaluronan injections, or steroid injections. When a patient has severe pain and total knee replacement has been recommended as the best solution, knee taping may not offer enough benefit.

How Effective Is Knee Taping?

There are two studies that are most often cited regarding the effectiveness of knee taping. The first study, published in the March 1994 issue of the British Medical Journal, had 14 study participants and was used to evaluate the effectiveness of knee taping on osteoarthritis patients. The study, however, lacked a control group of untaped patients, was of short duration, and had limited goals. Even so, it was determined that a 25% reduction in pain occurred in patients with patellofemoral joint disease after taping the patella (kneecap) medially or toward the middle for 4 days.

The second study, published in the July 2003 issue of the British Medical Journal, is considered the premiere study on knee taping. It involved 87 study participants with knee osteoarthritis, who were randomly assigned to therapeutic tape, control tape, or no tape groups. The study lasted for 3 weeks and there was a 3-week follow-up period.

Twelve physical therapists were trained to tape the knees so the upper tape provided medial glide, medial tilt, and anteroposterior tilt to the kneecap. A lower tape was positioned to unload either the infrapatellar fat pad (fatty mass that occupies the area between the patellar ligament and the infrapatellar synovial fold of the knee joint) or pes anserinus (conjoined tendons in the leg). Though this sounds quite technical, it's important to realize the precise placement of the tape has significance.

Researchers from the second study (Hinson et al.) concluded that therapeutic tape reapplied weekly and worn for 3 weeks significantly reduced pain by 38 to 40% and improved disability in patients with knee osteoarthritis. The benefit of knee taping was maintained for 3 weeks after taping had been stopped.

Sources:

Efficacy of knee tape in the management of osteoarthritis of the knee: blinded randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal. Hinson et al. July 19, 2003.
http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/327/7407/135

Taping the patella medially: a new treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee joint? British Medical Journal. Cushnaghan et al. March 19, 1994.
http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/308/6931/753

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