Stuck on improvement: Equine kinesiology trend is rolling
for Tri-State Livestock News
Whether human or equine, athletes depend on proper functioning of muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments to perform at their peak capability. When competitors started appearing at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics wearing brightly colored, stretchy tape in unique patterns, the equine world took notice as well. Today, as the sight of elite horses competing or performing wearing flashy strips of tape becomes more common, horse owners are increasingly curious about the practice, with some wondering if it’s worth a try, or if it’s just a little too “out there” for them.
Kinesiology tape is a unique product that only stretches the long way, is adhesive, breathable and latex free. The original kinesiology tape and practice of applying it on humans, called the Kinesio Taping® Method, was developed by Dr. Kenzo Kase, an acupuncturist and chiropractor in the U.S. and Japan in the mid-1970s. Other product manufacturers have followed suit, but the fundamentals remain the same – the tape microscopically lifts the skin, allowing for increased circulation, improved lymphatic drainage and decreased inflammation.
Practitioners use kinesiology taping – on both two-legged and four-legged patients – for two primary objectives: first as a training application to prevent injury, and second, to support rehabilitation and recovery in a variety of orthopedic, neuromuscular and neurological conditions.
A product called Equi-Tape® has set itself apart in the market place as being the first kinesiology tape designed specifically for the equine athlete. A former human chiropractor who specialized in working with equestrian athletes, product founder Dr. Beverly Gordon says she saw the benefits of kinesiology taping on humans. “Being a horse person, I started experimenting with the application on horses.” From 2005 to 2012, Dr. Gordon worked researching and developing the specifications on a tape and application protocol that would benefit the horse, then took the product to market with a partnering equine manufacturing company, RSB Animal Health in 2013. Since then, Equi-Tape has created a momentum of followers by offering an educational curriculum, holding 40 training courses in Equi-Taping methodology, and certifying more than 400 practitioners.
Dr. Pam Muhonen is an equine vet and owner of Timberwind Veterinary Acupuncture Services in Estes Park, Colo. Her work includes providing acupuncture, manual therapy, integrated pain management, and rehabilitation strategies for horses. She also works with a team of professionals to evaluate foot care, dentistry, bits and bitting, saddle fit, training strategies and therapeutic nutrition. Dr. Muhonen says she started using kinesiology taping with her clients seven years ago and became certified as an Equi-Tape practitioner several years ago.
“The simplest way to describe it is when a horse is injured, they become very good at compensating and will stop using a muscle group or a joint or an area of the body correctly. Kinesiology tape is a safe, easy way to give the body a break, and kind of remind them how to correctly use that part of the body,” Muhonen says.
The research behind the product use on horses is considered by most academics to be “soft science” at best. However, anecdotally, users are seeing positive effects and sometimes the “what” matters more than the “how.”
Gordon and her trainees use objective evaluations methods such as movement, flexion, palpation, tenderness, skin heat, swelling and flexibility of joints to assess horses treated with tape. She cites hundreds of therapeutic facilities that have provided feedback on decreased healing time of injuries after using kinesiology tape application. Along with years of experimenting and collecting feedback from certified applicators, Gordon has conducted thermographic studies on horses looking at blood flow to an area before and after taping. “We know from these studies the tape lifts the skin, increases circulation, and leaves room for increased blood flow,” she says.
But mostly, Gordon is confident in the fundamentals of cell biology.
“We know certain things are accepted scientific theory: increased blood flow improves healing, brings oxygen and nutrients to damaged tissues and removes toxins, and we test those principles on the horses,” says Gordon. “When we tape a [human] bruise and remove the tape later, we can see that where the tape was, the bruise has disappeared. When we tape a horse it pulls on the hair, which pulls on the skin and has a similar response. The practicality of it would demonstrate that the same thing occurs.”
One of the greatest benefits, specialists note, is that equine kinesiology taping has almost zero risk. James Ruder is the owner of RSB Animal Health, and says that since offering the Equi-Tape starting kit in 2013, the company has never had a report of an adverse effect from the tape. “If you don’t apply it right, maybe you don’t get optimum benefit, but you’re not going to cause a problem,” he says. The basic training program and online videos at Equi-Tape.com offer four to five tapings that first time users can apply with good results. However, they recommend that for true therapeutic application (and also taping legs) horse owners should consult with a trained practitioner.
Although the practice is growing in popularity, many traditional vets are not drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid. Several equine therapeutic specialists, who did not wish to be controversial, noted they are not using the practice as they simply do not see any proven, scientific benefit behind it yet.
Dr. Muhonen says she agrees much more research is needed to prove scientific evidence, but that in the meantime, kinesiology taping simply provides another tool to use in a spectrum of treatments.
“I think that, the same as with many of our integrative modalities, we have a great deal of work to do to build a good evidence-based foundation. But the way I look at it is we’re not using it to replace good Western medicine or good diagnostics – we are using it as a tool as part of a complete work up [on a horse],” Muhonen says.
“Sometimes something new comes along and people use it to try and replace medicine. This is not the case. It’s not a magic wand – it’s just one tool of many that we are adding to the mix.”
And who knows. Despite the cynicism, this tape just may end up sticking around.