Taping across the knee cap for adults with persistent pain at the front of the knee (patellofemoral pain)

Pain at the front of the knee (also known as anterior knee pain or patellofemoral pain) is a common problem which particularly affects those who do some form of sport or exercise. Typically, it gets worse when going up and down stairs, squatting, kneeling and sitting with the knee bent. It is a distinct and separate condition from knee arthritis.

Such anterior knee pain is often treated by physiotherapists, who use a variety of techniques. One such technique is the use of a simple piece of adhesive tape across the knee cap to control the positioning of the knee-cap (patella) and potentially reduce the pain during movement.

The review found five trials, involving around 200 participants with this condition, which compared the clinical use of taping with no taping. All five studies differed from each other in terms of the type of participants (one trial involved army recruits), length and schedule of the treatment programme and assessment of outcome. In four trials, participants of both taping and no or placebo taping groups were prescribed exercises. In part because both the therapist and the patient knew whether they were getting taping, some caution was necessary in interpreting the study results. Pooled results from four trials (161 knees) for the level of pain at the end of the treatment programme (ranging for one week to three months) showed no difference between those given taping and those not. Data for other outcomes measuring function and activities of daily living were from single trials only and gave different results.

The review concluded that the currently available evidence from trials reporting clinically relevant outcomes is and low quality and insufficient to draw conclusions on the effects of taping. However, before further trials are conducted, some consensus is required to establish the typical patients, taping technique and the best way of measuring outcome.

Authors' conclusions: 

The currently available evidence from trials reporting clinically relevant outcomes is low quality and insufficient to draw conclusions on the effects of taping, whether used on its own or as part of a treatment programme. Further research involving large, preferably multi-centre, good quality and well reported randomised controlled trials that measure clinically important outcomes and long-term results is warranted. Before this, consensus is required on the diagnosis of patellofemoral pain syndrome, the standardisation of outcome measurement and an acceptable approach for patellar taping.

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Background: 

Patellofemoral pain syndrome refers to the clinical presentation of knee pain related to changes in the patellofemoral joint. Patellofemoral pain syndrome usually has a gradual onset of pain with none of the features associated with other knee diseases or trauma. It is often treated by physiotherapists, who use a variety of techniques including patellar taping. This involves the application of adhesive sports medical tape applied directly to the skin over the patella on the front of the knee. Patients often report an instantaneous improvement in pain and function after the tape is applied, but its longer term effects are uncertain.

Objectives: 

The objective was to assess the effects, primarily on pain and function, of patellar taping for treating patellofemoral pain syndrome in adults.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, PEDro, SPORTDiscus, AMED, reference lists of articles, trial registers and conference proceedings. All were searched to August 2011.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised controlled trials testing the effects of patellar taping on clinically relevant outcomes, pain and function, in adults with patellofemoral pain syndrome. We excluded studies testing only the immediate effects of tape application.

Data collection and analysis: 

Both review authors independently performed study selection, data extraction and assessment of risk of bias. Trialists were contacted for more information. Data were pooled where possible.

Main results: 

Five small heterogeneous randomised controlled trials, all at high risk of performance bias and most at risk of at least one other type of bias, were included. These involved approximately 200 participants with a diagnosis of patellofemoral pain syndrome. All compared taping versus control (no or placebo taping) and all included one or more co-interventions given to both taping and control group participants; this was prescribed exercise in four trials. The intensity and length of treatment was very varied: for example, length of treatment ranged from one week in one trial to three months in another. A meta-analysis of the visual analogue scale (VAS) pain data (scale 0 to 10: worst pain), measured in different ways, from four trials (data from 161 knees), found no statistically or clinically significant difference between taping and non taping in pain at the end of the treatment programmes (mean difference (MD) -0.15; 95% confidence interval (CI) -1.15 to 0.85; random-effects model used given the significant heterogeneity (P < 0.0001)). Data for other outcomes measuring function and activities of daily living were from single trials only and gave contradictory results.

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