Can your horse benefit from equine kinesiology tape?
As part of our continuing series on equine wellness, this week we are looking at equine kinesiology taping. Like equine sports massage therapy (ESMT), this alternative treatment is becoming more prolific and horse owners in certain areas have the luxury of calling on a variety of practitioners to administer the taping protocols.
What is Equine Kinesiology Taping?
Seeing human athletes wearing kinesiology tape. has become increasingly common. Athletes wear it during competition and training events.
Kinesiology tape is more than just a way to look like an athlete; it has a number of therapeutic properties. It decreases pain, increases muscle strength, improves blood and lymph circulation and adds stability to joints by increasing proprioception (perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body).
Unlike conventional athletic tape, which applies pressure and acts like a brace, kinesiology tape stretches along the longitudinal axis of the muscles, which allows it to provide support during exercise without restricting motion. When applied correctly, it decompresses the skin and interacts with the neurosensory receptors, which is what gives it its therapeutic qualities.
Kinesiology tape has now made its way into the equestrian community — for both riders and their horses.
How Does Equine Kinesiology Tape Work?
Kinesiology tape is different than other athletic tapes because it moves with the body without restricting motion. It does so because it is applied along the body’s longitudinal axis, but not across its width.
When kinesiology tape is applied to the skin or the animal’s fur, it mechanically decompresses the skin and the underlying tissues. When tape is applied to an animal, the tape lifts the hair, which in turn lifts the skin and accomplishes the same decompression seen in people. The decompression action promotes increased blood and lymph flow, which decreases inflammation and relieves pressure from free nerve endings. As the animal moves with the tape on, the tape stimulates nerves called mechanoreceptors with every movement.
The tape acts as a natural pain reliever because stimulation of mechanoreceptors inhibits nociceptors (the pain generators). The more mechanoreceptors that are stimulated, the less pain will be perceived. Movement with the tape on also stimulates nerves called proprioceptors, which contribute to the brain’s sense of where the body’s parts are in space and throughout movement. Often times, proprioceptive input is altered in people and animals due to past injuries and misalignments. The tape can help stimulate proper proprioception and promote proper movement.
What Can Equine Kinesiology Taping Treat?
There are a wide variety of equine taping protocols that may be able to help your horse. They are designed to reduce inflammation, decrease pain, support joints, increase proprioception and/or open the flow in energy pathways along the major meridians. Here is a list of some of the protocols used in equine kinesiology taping:
Pain Reduction Tapings
Pain reduction tapings can be used on horses that are experiencing pain due to soft tissue injuries. They can be used to treat
- Temporomandibular Joint Pain
- Neck Pain
- Shoulder Pain
- Back Pain
- Hind End Pain
Inflammation Reduction Tapings
Because kinesiotape increases blood flow to the areas to which it is applied, it can help reduce inflammation due to
- Stocking Up
Support tapings are unlikely to provide much actual support to your horse’s joints (consider the weight ratio from the horse to the tape), but the increased proprioception in the muscles surrounding the unstable joints can help the horse to put its body where it needs to be to encourage proper muscle development (which will, in turn, support the joint). These tapings can offer
- Knee Support
- Suspensory Ligament Support
- Digital Flexor Tendon Support
- Common Digital Extensor Support
- Gluteal Support
- Semitendonosis/Biceps femoris Support
- Stifle Support
- Sacroiliac Support
Energy Meridian Tapings
The concept behind these taping protocols is that meridians (discovered thousands of years ago in traditional Chinese medicine) are paths in the body through which energy (or Qi) flows. Sometimes these energy pathways get blocked, leading to decreased energy flow along them. According to traditional Chinese medicine, when a particular meridian is not flowing properly, it can cause health issues in the organs associated with the meridian. The meridian taping protocols are used to increase energy flow through these specific meridians:
- Lung Meridian
- Large Intestine Meridian
- Stomach Meridian
- Spleen Meridian
- Heart Meridian
- Small Intestine Meridian
- Bladder Meridian
- Kidney Meridian
- Pericardium Meridian
- Triple Heater Meridian
- Gall Bladder Meridian
- Liver Meridian
- Conception Vessel Meridian
- Governing Vessel Meridian
Increased Proprioception Taping
These taping protocols are used if the horse has no known issues , but you are looking to improve proprioception in order improve athleticism and decrease the chance of injury during training.
Should My Horse Get Equine Kinesiotape?
Whether your horse is actively in pain or you simply are looking to increase proprioception during training, most horses can benefit from kinesiotape. As a practitioner, I have seen marked improvements over the course of a few days from pain relief tapings. For instance, here are before and after videos of a mare who received the sacroiliac support taping protocol:
However, there are times when an animal — horse or human — should not receive tape. Do not use kinesiotape on your horse if s/he presents with any of the following conditions:
- Infection – kinesiology tape improves blood circulation and may aid in spreading the infection
- Open Wounds – open wounds should always be evaluated and treated by a doctor
- Malignant Cancer – due to the increased circulation, kinesiology tape may speed up the growth and spread of malignant cancers
- Advanced Kidney Disease – animals and people with advanced kidney disease may not be able to handle the mobilization of fluids that takes place with kinesiology tape
- Congestive Heart Failure – animals and people with congestive heart failure may not be able to handle the mobilization of fluids that takes place with kinesiology tape
- Deep Vein Thrombosis or other Blood Clots – kinesiology tape can cause emboli to break free from these clots, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes and other issues; taping over a clot can be extremely dangerous and life threatening
Although these are not complete non-starters, caution should be used when applying kinesiology tape if the horse presents with these conditions:
- Fractures – depending on the type and location of the break, the fracture may have associated blood clots, circulation damage and other soft tissue injuries; always consult with a doctor before taping over a fracture
- Surgical wounds – kinesiology tape can help speed up the rate of healing after surgery and reduce scar formation, but one should always consult with a doctor before taping over sutures or staples to make sure there are no contraindications present
- Neurological conditions – kinesiology tape can often improve nerve signals; however, if a person or animal is experiencing symptoms associated with neurological disease, always seek medical advice before taping!
Remember, no body work service or product can replace proper veterinary care or diagnose or treat a disease.