Masking the Pain of Pregnancy with Kinesiology Tape
Using Kinesio Tape During Pregnancy
Women in my childbirth and breastfeeding classes find pregnancy to be a time of great excitement and anticipation. Underneath the surface, however, pregnancy also brings worry, sleep deprivation, lifestyle changes, and decision-making. Women are bombarded with media images of the perfect pregnancy and often carry on working and exercising until labor begins.
The pregnant woman experiences changes to her hair, nails, skin, and feet, to name a few. She is also roughly 1°F warmer than the rest of the population. Although moderate exercise is deemed beneficial (ACOG, 2020), the pressure to continue activities as normal puts a strain on even the fittest body. And not only is her belly getting bigger to accommodate a growing baby, but the extra weight causes an increased curvature of her spine. In class, we ask partners to try on the sympathy belly to give them an idea of how it feels to carry, bend over, etc. with an extra 20lbs+ attached to your midriff.
That extra weight and curvature can cause a myriad of problems. This includes pain from the stretching of the round ligaments (two cord-like structures that connect the front of the uterus to the groin), weakness, separation of her diastasis recti (the 'six-pack' muscles), and inflammation in her pubic symphysis (pelvic girdle pain). It is common for women in my classes to describe these aches using words like burning, lightning, stabbing, and numbing. We discuss potential ways to avoid making the problem worse, such as:
- Using a birth ball when seated
- Sustaining good upright forward posture
- Sleeping with pillows or a knee separator
- And avoiding specific stretches and movements
Care providers often prescribe various treatments, including heat or ice, pain relief medications, maternity support belts, massage, and rest – with varying degrees of success. However, when those treatments don't work, many women turn to Kinesiology tape to enhance stability and aid support. In an interview on the TV Show 'The Doctors', physician Dr Levi Harrison gushed, "…The great thing about the tape is that it can be used for pain, for postural alignment and instability, for joint rehabilitation as well as soft tissue rehabilitation. I've used it effectively for many, many years. I'm a fan".
Dr. Harrison asserts that taping the pregnant belly or back works to decrease pain by increasing the space around tissue cells. Thereby reducing the amount of pressure on pain receptors. In turn, a decrease in pain increases blood flow and decreases inflammation. Finally, the tape increases lymphatic flow – also reducing inflammation.
Doctors can be hesitant to recommend using tape for belly support during pregnancy due to a lack of randomized control trials. A 2015 Scandinavian study explored the effect of physiotherapeutic interventions on pregnancy-related lumbopelvic pain. It found maternity belts to be the most effective; however, the study did not evaluate or compare k tape for pregnancy. Women also complain that maternity belts are expensive, make women hot, and decrease blood flow when worn for longer than a few hours. Two recent studies have since been published in the Medical Science Monitor. Both noted significant decreases in the back pain of participants using kinesiology taping strategies. Kinesiology taping is modular, cooler, and can be worn for several days.
How to Use Kinesiology Tape for Pregnancy
Different taping patterns are used depending on the point of pain. One pattern, which resembles the top of a bicycle helmet, is used for pubic symphysis pain (left). Taping to support more general belly and back pain follows the curve of the ribs and diaphragm above the pregnancy bump with one strip, an anchor strip around the bottom of the bump (acting like a maternity belt), and a third strip vertically between the two. Supporting the weakened diastasis recti usually involves a 5-inch X-shape above and below the woman's navel.
As with any treatment, caution should be taken depending on any pregnancy complications and each individual's unique situation. If you try taping, consider the following guidelines:
- Have a specialist physical therapist assess your pain source and tape you first before trying it yourself. After 34 weeks of pregnancy, taping could limit the baby's positioning, so be cautious if the baby is in the breech posterior (back to back) position. Normally a midwife can palpate to determine the baby's lie.
- For most pain points, it is best to tape the woman when she is lying down. This takes the pressure off her bump and allows the tape to be applied with little or no tension.
- Rounding the corners with scissors can prolong the life of the tape (corners tend to fray). The tape featured in this article already comes with rounded corners.
- Bend strips in half to mark the center of the strip and then apply from the middle outward (like a Band-Aid) instead of starting at one end. This can help to equalize the tension.
- Once applied, gently rub the tape all over to activate the adhesive.
Specialized kinesiology tape can offer pregnant women respite from many of the aches and pain associated with a growing baby's extra weight and is an alternative when other traditional methods have been exhausted.
Although support tape for pregnancy is not yet well studied, most women find relief when applied to a specific region for their particular pain. Pregnancy tape for pain allows freedom of movement, modularity, and can be altered easily, making it excellent belly support while pregnant. Of course, the real cure for most pregnancy ailments is to give birth. However, kinesiology tape can be used throughout an adult's lifetime to reduce pain and inflammation, support weak muscles or relax overused ones.
- ACOG Committee Opinion 804: Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Committee on Obstetric Practice. March, 2020
- Gutke A, Betten C, Degersk€ar K, Pousette S, Fagevik Olsen M. Treatments for pregnancy-related lumbopelvic pain: a systematic review of physiotherapy modalities. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 2015; 94: 1156–1168.
- Ho SS, Yu WW, Lao TT, Chow DH, Chung JW, Li Y. Effectiveness of maternity support belts in reducing low back pain during pregnancy: a review. J Clin Nurs. 2009 Jun;18(11):1523-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2008.02749.x. PMID: 19490291.
- Huizen, Jennifer. What are the Benefits of Belly Bands and Belts? Nov 2018. www.medicalnewstoday.com
- Kalinowski P, Krawulska A. Kinesio Taping vs. Placebo in Reducing Pregnancy-Related Low Back Pain: A Cross-Over Study. Med Sci Monit. 2017 Dec 26;23:6114-6120. doi: 10.12659/msm.904766. PMID: 29277836; PMCID: PMC5751726.
- Kaplan Ş, Alpayci M, Karaman E, Çetin O, Özkan Y, İlter S, Şah V, Şahin HG. Short-Term Effects of Kinesio Taping in Women with Pregnancy-Related Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Med Sci Monit. 2016 Apr 18;22:1297-301. doi: 10.12659/msm.898353. PMID: 27088271; PMCID: PMC4837927.
- O’Connor, Amy. Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) During Pregnancy. Reviewed Oct 2020. www.whattoexpect.com
- “Can Kinesiology Tape Help Pregnancy-Related Back Pain?” The Doctorstv.com Dr Levi Harrison (contributor). Stage 29 Productions, 2019
About the Author
Mindy Cockeram is a certified Lamaze Educator and Author working with a large non-profit hospital organization in Southern California where she's been teaching childbirth & lactation since 2011. She trained initially through the UK's National Childbirth Trust in London, England receiving her Diploma in Antenatal Education from the University of Bedfordshire. She also graduated from Villanova University in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in Communications and a minor in Business Studies. She is also the author of two books: Breastfeeding Doesn't Have to Suck: Tips, Tricks and Knowledge for a Great Experience and Cut Your Labor in Half: 19 Secrets to a Faster and Easier Labor.
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