The shoulder joint is an unstable joint, despite the major work load it carries. A ball-and-socket joint consisting of three bones connected by ligaments and tendons, the shoulder's instability stems from its mobility and range of motion. Because of this underlying instability, shoulder injuries often occur. Some sports medicine practitioners recommend taping your shoulder to prevent injury or to prevent aggravating an existing injury. Talk to your doctor about the possible benefits of taping your shoulder to prevent or treat an injury.
Shoulder taping has no definite proven clinical benefit, physical therapists George Davies and Ann Thatcher state in the textbook "Shoulder Rehabilitation: Non-Operative Treatment." Studies have showed both positive and negative results of taping shoulder joints. While practitioners tape not only to strengthen the joint but also to reduce pain and disability, the clinical evidence for taping comes mostly from anecdotal evidence. Taping in the same direction as muscle fibers might shorten the muscle and increase its ability to contract. Taping a shortened muscle might inhibit muscle contraction. Taping could work by stimulating receptors in the skin or might have psychological effects.
Determining the Best Way to Tape
Determining the type of taping that might help your shoulder requires input from your medical practitioners. Different types of injury require different taping techniques. For example, if your doctor wants to pull the shoulder joint back slightly to stabilize it, he might place one end of the tape on the chest and pull the tape over the deltoid muscle to your mid-back, retracting the shoulder. To stabilize damage to the ligaments in the acromioclavicular joint, which is formed by the shoulder blade and collarbone, he may simply place a piece of tape over the joint and extend it down towards your back and chest approximately 1 to 2 inches in each direction. All taping techniques require expert instruction; ask your doctor to make sure you're taping correctly.
You generally need two layers of tape to stabilize your shoulder joint: a hypoallergenic tape underneath and a more rigid tape to restrict muscle movement over the top, placed in the direction determined by the injury. Place the top layer of tape under tension to hold the joint in a stable position; tape that's loosely placed won't give the same benefit. You might need to shave the area to get good contact between the adhesive and the skin. Proper positioning of the shoulder during taping is essential to achieve desired results.
Remove tape after 48 hours to prevent skin damage. Cutting tape off with blunt-nosed scissors prevents injury to the skin from ripping the tape off, as well as injury to the joint from the stress of pulling on the tape. If you experience increased pain or signs of skin irritation, remove the tape immediately.
- University of Washington Orthopedics and Sports Medicine: Home Exercises for the Unstable Shoulder
- Shoulder Rehabilitation: Non-Operative Treatment; Todd Ellenbacher
- PhysioAdvisor.com: Shoulder Taping
- Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies: Proprioceptive Shoulder Taping
- OrthoInfo: Chronic Shoulder Instability
- Athletes Treating Athletes: AC Joint