Friday, August 28, 2015

I'm Giving KT Tape a Try

In early July, I realized I needed to find a way to protect my right leg if I was going to keep running marathons.  For the Comrades Marathon, I made do with a hamstring compression wrap.  That worked, but that wrap covers too much of my leg, and it would be way too hot to wear it during summer races.

I’ve seen athletes using KT tape for a variety of different injuries and decided to give it a try.  I already had some samples that I received with my race packets at various races.  Before using it in a race, I wanted to try it out in a training run.  I found a few YouTube videos showing how to apply the tape for a groin strain.  I did my best to follow the instructions, but the tape started coming off before I even finished my warm-up exercises.

I realized my samples were old.  They had been sitting at the bottom of my travel bag for months, perhaps years.  They had seen extremes in temperature, and they had been through airport X-ray machines dozens of times.  Before giving up, I figured I should buy some new tape.

I started calling around to find out if any of the local sports stores carried KT tape.  It turns out I could buy it at Target.  They had it in two colors, black and “stealth beige.”  Not wanting to stick out like a sore thumb, I went with the beige.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t planning to run again before my next race.  Rather than break the cardinal rule of “don’t try something new on race day,” I wore an elastic bandage again.  I knew that was an imperfect solution, but it was the devil I knew.

July turned out to be a bad time to try out the KT tape in a training run.  I usually run in the late afternoon.  Since I was already worried about how well the tape would stick, I didn’t want to try it out on a 90 degree afternoon.  For the rest of July, I stuck with the elastic bandage.

The bandage has always been an imperfect solution.  By binding other muscles in my upper thigh, it caused discomfort and forced me to run at a slow pace.  It also resulted in an off-balance stride.  I often wondered if this was going to cause other problems.

Until recently, I knew I also had problems with my left leg, but I didn’t do anything to support that leg while I’m running.  I’ve never tried wearing an elastic bandage on my left leg, because I use a style of bandage that’s designed to stick to itself.  When you run, your thighs sometimes rub against each other.  If I had elastic bandages on both legs, the bandages would rub against each other, and they would stick, causing way too much friction for a fluid running motion.

We’ve been having cooler weather recently, so I finally got a chance to try out KT tape on training runs.  I went for two short runs this week.  I started with a 3.5 mile run on Tuesday.  For this run, I just wore KT tape on my right leg.  I ran on a loop course that’s fairly flat, but has lots of 90 degree turns.

Although both legs have injuries in the same area, they present different symptoms.  If I run without any support, my right leg will feel fine at first, but eventually I’ll start noticing soreness.  The soreness doesn’t correlate to specific motions, such as turns, but I’m more apt to experience soreness after running downhill.  My left leg feels OK running in a straight line, but sometimes gives me momentary twinges of pain when I turn.  It’s worse on left turns.  When I aggravate this injury during a race, I don’t usually realize it until nighttime.  Motions such as climbing into bed or rolling over in my sleep can be extremely painful the night after a race.

This time, I didn’t have any problem getting the tape to stick.  I had to run at a sluggish pace, because the muscles around my hips were sore from exercises I did on Monday.  While 3.5 miles at a slow pace isn’t the best test, it’s worth noting that I didn’t experience any soreness in my right leg.  I also felt fine the next day.  There wasn’t any DOMS.  My left leg felt uncomfortable on left turns.  That’s no surprise, since I didn’t have any tape on that leg.

I went for a longer run on Thursday.  I ran 6.6 miles on an out-and-back course.  I ran a hillier route that doesn’t have many turns, but I had to make a 180 degree turn halfway through the run.  This time I taped both legs.

Once again, I didn’t have any soreness in my right leg during the run.  My left leg still gave me slight twinges of pain on turns.  On the 180 degree turn, I had to come to a stop, turn slowly, and then accelerate from a standing start.  That’s not too surprising.  Turning motions force me to use my adductors, which are incredibly weak in that leg.  The tape can provide support, but it can’t take the place of a muscle that’s too weak to do its job.

Both legs felt OK for the rest of the day, but I had some discomfort in my left leg during the night.  It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it is after a race, but I also didn’t run as far.  I noticed a little soreness in my right leg when I woke this morning.

I found these results encouraging, but the jury is still out as to whether the tape is a good enough solution to keep my legs from getting worse.

I have a 50K trail race this weekend.  It scares me.  I’m tentatively planning to use KT tape on both legs.  I’m cautiously optimistic that the tape will protect my right leg sufficiently.  I’m not as sure about the left leg, but wearing KT tape has to be better than not having any support at all.

I need to find a solution that will keep both legs from getting worse until I reach a point in my schedule where I can take a break.  I'll see how it goes this weekend and then re-evaluate.

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