Athletic Tape for Arthritis Pain

Want to ease your arthritis-related knee pain? Contrast baths, over-the-counter pain relievers, and special exercises can help, but pain relief just may be as simple as applying athletic tape. Often used to treat knee pain in runners, athletic tape has been found to reduce pain caused by patellofemoral osteoarthritis, which occurs when cartilage wears away from the underside of the kneecap where it meets the femur. It's one of the most common types of osteoarthritis diagnosed today.

A study researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia recruited 28 volunteers with an average age of 57. Half of them had osteoarthritis and half had no knee problems. They were first given magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs), which revealed that the arthritis sufferers had greater misalignment of the knee joint than the non-arthritic subjects. In particular, the arthritis sufferers tended to have kneecaps that sat toward the outside of the leg rather than in the middle. The arthritic subjects also were asked to perform squatting exercises and asked to rate their pain on a scale of one to 100.

The arthritis sufferers then had their knees wrapped with athletic tape and were given MRIs again. This time, the misalignment in their kneecaps was visibly reduced, apparently due to the tape. The subjects' self-reported pain levels also were 15 points lower while doing squatting exercises wearing the tape than while squatting without the tape.

Since athletic tape does need to be applied correctly in order to have any effect on arthritis pain, the scientists conducting the study suggest that arthritis patients visit a physical therapist who can show them how to wrap their knees correctly. They also caution that athletic tape may not work for everyone who suffers from osteoarthritis, and that other therapies such as knee braces or particular exercises may offer more relief.


National Institutes of Health

Arthritis Research Campaign