Injury Treatment Patella taping: a simple way to control knee pain?



Knee pain: almost every athlete gets it from time to time, but no one seems to know how to prevent it. Now, help is on the way. Recent research from the United States suggests that in many cases knee discomfort can be cut by at least 50 per cent.


The new investigation was an outgrowth of the popular theory that knee pain is usually caused by a "gliding" patella (knee bone). Its decision to glide randomly around your knee joint is probably often caused by weak quadriceps femoris muscles (the "quads"). Specifically, if one of your vastus medialis muscles is weak (the vastus medialis makes up the inside portion of the quadriceps femoris muscle in the front of the thigh), the patella tends to slide laterally during exertion, rubbing unnecessarily on various parts of the knee joint. Over time, the friction between the patella and joint produces irritation, swelling and pain.


Scientists at the University of Indianapolis and Indiana State University reasoned that they could control this patella glissade simply by taping the patella in place. In research carried out with 12 individuals (five men and seven women) who suffered from chronic knee pain, the researchers employed "McConnell's patella taping techniques", which meant that 2- and 4-inch coverall tape was applied to the patellas of all 12 people.


Happily, the taping did reduce pain by about 50 per cent during activity. Unfortunately, the reason for the pain reduction was unclear, since the taping didn't always stop the patella from sliding sideways. The Indiana scientists speculated that the analgesic effect of taping was due to something called "neural inhibition": by applying force to the knee joint, the tape caused pressure signals to be transmitted rapidly to the brain, overriding the pain messages which were also being sent.


So, patella taping may help if you suffer from knee pain during exercise, even though the tape won't keep your patella from waggling back and forth. However, a possibly better pain prevention strategy, which is very easy to carry out, may strike at the actual root cause of knee pain by strengthening your vastus medialis muscles. To add a bit of oomph to each vastus medialis, simply sit in a straight- backed chair and extend one leg so that it extends straight from your body, parallel to the floor. Then rotate the leg so the inside edge is facing up. Hold this position for one minute, and then do the same with the other leg. Repeat as often as you can stand to do it. Over time, your vastus medialis muscles will become considerably more rugged, and their new found strength should help stabilise your knees and reduce patellar pain.


("Effects of Patella Taping on Patella Position and Perceived Pain"' Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, vol 25(9), pp989-992, 1993)