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Kinesio Taping for Shoulder Impingement

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT December 26, 2019 0 Comments

woman shoulder kinesio tape

No matter the initial cause, shoulder impingement syndrome tends to be aggravated by poor muscle coordination, posture, and flexibility impairments. These are all issues that can potentially be addressed by strategically placing tape to an injured or weak area. Kinesio taping for shoulder impingement is a simple way to enhance and potentially speed up the recovery process.

What is Shoulder Impingement Taping?

Taping is a technique that can be done with five primary goals in mind for shoulder impingement:

  1. Posture training
  2. Improving shoulder joint (glenohumeral) alignment
  3. Decreasing muscle use (such as the deltoid and upper trapezius)
  4. Increasing muscle use (such as the middle/lower trapezius and rotator cuff muscles)
  5. Promoting overall awareness of how the body is moving to improve coordination and reduce the risk of overuse with activity

Benefits of Taping

Taping can be a great adjunct for treating shoulder impingement.

  • Boost the healing process and decrease overall recovery time
  • Provide short term pain relief with potentially lasting effects (if used with other treatment options)
  • Promote better alignment and shoulder mechanics to increase subacromial space and reduce the risk of rotator cuff tears, tendonitis, bursitis, and more.
  • Improve overall shoulder and upper body coordination

You should notice an immediate change in the way you move and have a more pain-free shoulder range of motion when the tape is applied correctly.

Kinesio vs. Athletic Taping

Differences in material and benefits of each provide varying amounts of support, comfort, and more. Here are some key points to keep in mind.

  • Kinesio tape is preferred in most cases for comfort and functionality.
  • Kinesio tape can be worn longer and can be applied for several different reasons.
  • Athletic taping is cheaper and more universal, however, it’s stiffness can be uncomfortable due to poor breathability, rubbing, and blisters.
  • Athletic tape is best reserved for severe cases of poor posture and coordination. Additionally, it can be used for training and athletic events that require more immediate support.

Shoulder Taping Techniques

Kinesiology Taping

There are several different theories and ways to tape the shoulder when treating impingement syndrome to address muscle activity, imbalance, and pain. Here are the two main focus areas no matter what the specific technique.

Promoting better shoulder alignment and muscle activation

This technique is ultimately putting the shoulder joint and scapula into a position to promote the most possible space in the subacromial space. This is of particular importance since it is where the rotator cuff tendons tend to get pinched with overhead motion. When a better posture is found and promoted, it will allow better muscle coordination and activation.

Start by cutting a strip of kinesiology tape that will go from the front of the shoulder and wrap around to the back of the mid-shoulder blade. Assume an upright posture with the shoulders pulled back and the neck relaxed. Place the first end of the tape at the front of the shoulder, then gently pull the tape (10-20% to begin) as you bring the tape around the shoulder and across the shoulder blade. The tape should be horizontal or slightly tilted downward (from front to back). When placed correctly, you should feel an immediate effect. The tape will tug at you if you start to reach overhead with a poor posture. Thus, promoting better scapular and shoulder muscle activation.

Minimize use of the neck and promoting better shoulder blade mechanics

The neck, particularly the upper trapezius, is notoriously tight and overactive with shoulder pain (and can actually aggravate the overall injury). When the neck is tight, shoulder movement looks choppy and difficult due to poor shoulder blade and shoulder joint coordination. This technique helps provide awareness of neck use and promotes better overall muscle balance.

Start by cutting a strip of kinesiology tape that will go from the top of the shoulder (mid collar bone) to the lower shoulder blade. The strip will be vertical or slightly slanted in toward the spine (from top to bottom). Again, assume good posture with the neck relaxed (shoulder blades pulled gently together and down, causing the chest to come forward slightly). Place the first end of the tape on the neck (mid collar bone), and then gently pull the tape (10-20% to start) as you pull it down the inside edge of the shoulder blade. When you start to slouch or incorrectly lift the arm, the tape will give you immediate feedback for proper and better movement.

Athletic Taping

This taping technique provides significantly more support because there is no stretch in the tape. This is ideal for a new injury, severe alignment issues, or athletes that need enough support to continue competing without further compromising the shoulder. This technique also has two distinct steps.

Correct the forward position of the shoulder joint

This will open up space in the shoulder where tissues are being pinched. Start by placing protective white tape from the front of the shoulder, then pace it around the shoulder and onto the shoulder blade. Make sure it doesn’t go too high across the shoulder. It should create a slight diagonal on the shoulder blade that does not go above (or on) the bony top edge of the shoulder blade. You will then place the second piece of tape (athletic or McConnell tape) on top of the first layer. This time, once you have reached the back of the shoulder, you will use your hand to pull the entire shoulder back as you firmly pull and place the tape onto the shoulder blade. This should make the shoulder feel firmly supported in a pulled back position.

Correct the tilted position of the shoulder blade (or scapula)

This will promote better overall alignment of the shoulder blade (and joint) itself, especially in combination with the technique above. Start again by placing protective white tape from the front of the shoulder to the back of the shoulder blade at a slightly steeper incline. This time, the tape will go on top of the shoulder, going over (or just inside) the bony prominence you can feel on the top edge of your shoulder. Now, take the second piece of tape and place it in the same position. Once you have gotten past the bony top of the shoulder blade (it feels like a ridge), firmly pull the scapula back and down the spine as you place the tape on the shoulder blade. Again, this should provide a significant amount of support to the shoulder blade with any movement of the arm.

Shoulder Taping Tips

General tips for Kinesio taping

  • Leave room on each end of the tape where there will be no stretch (these will be your anchors).
  • Round the corners to increase the life of the tape and keep it from sticking to your clothing.
  • Measure the area for taping and pre-cut them, keeping in mind the amount of stretch.
  • Pay attention to your skin quality. Remove immediately if you develop a rash.
  • Pull gently on the tape to remove, ripping it off will take skin with it.
  • Start with lower amounts of stretch on the tape to minimize skin irritation. You can always progress the stretch as needed. Generally, less stretch is better.
  • Do not use it if you have had a reaction to other adhesives in the past (or at least proceed with caution).
  • Do not keep the tape on for more than 5 days in a row to allow the skin to breathe.
  • Use Kinesio tape when you want to provide good movement feedback and mild support for decreasing pain intensity.

General tips for athletic tape

  • Use a base layer of protective tape to protect the skin.
  • Try not to place tape directly over the edges of the bone. These areas are susceptible to blisters.
  • Wear the tape for 1-2 days. Since this tape doesn’t allow any breathing and loses it’s stick with showering, it will most likely only last a day (or even hours).
  • Use athletic tape when you want to provide significant support to the shoulder joint for intense posture training or an athletic event.

How to Maximize Your Recovery

If you are unsure of where to start with use of k-tape, talk to a medical professional. A physical therapist, orthopedic doctor, or biomechanics specialist can help you determine whether taping is a good option for you and what techniques to try. If you have good results (determined by outcome measures they will track), they can then teach you to self-tape at home for maximal benefits.

Physical Therapy for Shoulder Impingement



Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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