Taping for Back Pain
Anyone who has ever sustained a back injury knows just how debilitating it can be. Radiating pain, weakness, frustration, constant fear of injury aggravation -- all these feelings may become part of daily life. The good news? A non-traditional modality is showing promise in helping to alleviate back pain: therapeutic taping.
Jane Milliff, MMSc, PT, owner and founder of Alta Physical Therapy & Pilates in Boulder, Colo., said she first learned about therapeutic taping about 10 years ago. Shortly afterward, she invited an instructor to visit her clinic and teach the whole staff how to apply it in treatment. These days, she estimated about 25 percent of the patient population at Alta present with some type of back pain, and of that group approximately 50 percent receive therapeutic taping as part of their treatment program.
"I absolutely use it as an adjunct when I'm treating patients with back pain, and I more commonly apply it in the acute stages of the recovery process," she told ADVANCE. "For example, when there's a discogenic problem, I emphasize space correction quite a bit. And if there's rigidity in the erector spinae, then taping can really help relax that so people can better access their core muscles and stabilizers."
Empowering Support Why does Milliff believe the taping is effective? "One thing it really helps with is decreasing local inflammation," she explained. "So if the tape is applied correctly, it will lift the skin and allow for better lymph drainage. Ninety percent of the lymph is right below the skin, so if you lift it and enable better flow there, you can reduce inflammation."
Another significant point is that taping doesn't impede normal movement, added Milliff. "So patients don't feel restricted like they would with a brace, for example. And psychologically that's really important. They're empowered by the support but not aware of the tape on their body after a short period of time, even though it's still helping them." Especially for patients with back pain, quickly restoring normal movement is a high priority.
"If people have back pain for a long time and are fearful about movement, then fear-avoidance behavior can become perpetuated," related Milliff. "When the tape is on, it doesn't interfere with that movement, which I think is vital. Just trying to get people to move is one of the big challenges after a severe back injury, because it's scary. And with a little bit of support, it helps get them over the hump."
Cari Simon, DPT, owner and founder of Release Physical Therapy in Washington, D.C., has also witnessed notably positive outcomes from applying therapeutic tape to patients with back pain. Simon founded her clinic about two-and-a-half years ago, but started using the tape with patients a few years before. She estimated that 50 percent of patients at Release present with back pain, and approximately 40 percent of those people receive taping as part of treatment.
"I first became aware of it just from being at different sporting events and seeing athletes wear therapeutic tape, then I took a course on how to apply it," Simon said to ADVANCE.
Frequently she puts that knowledge to use with patients who have postural issues.
"Basically the tape offers stability by increasing proprioceptive awareness to the area," explained Simon. "It also provides a tactile reminder to the patient to keep better posture throughout the day, which then helps decrease stress and strain from improper muscle firing due to poor posture habits." Release Physical Therapy specializes in one-on-one sessions lasting one hour. Simon uses taping only as an adjunct to other treatments for back pain, but noted that many patients specifically request to be taped again after trying it once. Applying the tape takes about five minutes, typically toward the end of an appointment.
"It can vary depending on the client and what we're doing during the session," she explained. "For example, if I'm performing a lot of manual work, I'm not going to put the tape on initially since I'm using my hands on that area. We also use many active release techniques to decrease the tightness in stiff muscles. Then we'll do postural strengthening exercises, trying to get the lower trapezius, rhomboids or mid-trapezius more engaged if it's the upper thoracic or cervical region. If it's more lower-back pain, we work on the transverse abdominals and multifidi, which are the deep core stabilizers."
Simon typically tells patients to continue wearing the tape for two to three days after a session has ended. She said many of them relate feeling a warm sensation in the taped area.