So I finally got around to trying some kinesiology tape to try to alleviate the grinding sensation coming from my natural left kneecap. For me, it actually helps. It's a bit of a hassle, but worth the effort on longer rides.
I had a total knee replacement (TKR) of my left knee in the fall of 2009. My recovery went great and I'm still able to ride my bike strong, but one nagging consequence of the TKR is that there is a grinding sensation and noise when I ride my bike, especially during the first 15 to 20 minutes of riding, and during seated climbing efforts when I'm putting down more power. It rarely hurts, but it's not pleasant, so I thought I'd give this tape a try, since I had heard it helps keep a joint well aligned and functioning more smoothly.
According to my orthopedic surgeon, the grinding (the medical term is "patellar crepitus," which I've written about here before) is most likely related to the underside of my natural kneecap rubbing against the artificial joint. He had told me that as long as it doesn't cause pain or starts accelerating the wearing down of the joint, it's best to leave it alone. If it got worse, I was told, we could consider taking out my natural kneecap and inserting an artificial one. Of course, I wasn't about to do anything that invasive for what amounts to a nuisance, so I've learned to live with it. Then I started finding out more about this tape, seeing it on athletes including cyclists, and hearing about how it helps protect joints.
The bottomline for me is that it reduces the grinding sensation by about half. The downside: it's a bit of a hassle to use.
First off, you have to shave your knee area and part of your leg, so that's a bother for a recreational cyclist like me who doesn't leg shave. Once that stubble comes back in, the tape doesn't stick as well unless you keep it shaved. So I'm going around with just my left knee region shaved--kind of odd looking, but a time saver.
I also found that to get the tape to stick well, you need clean, oil-free, dry skin. I'm using alcohol-treated medical prep pads to wipe down my knee prior to tape application and that really makes a difference in getting the tape to stick. I'm sure it's not great for my skin to use those pads, but we're talking here about the battle-scarred skin of 53-year-old man who has had three knee surgeries, not the silky skin of a 20-year-old model, so I just use the prep pads and maybe apply some lotion after I remove the tape. In the picture here (it's a "selfie" so it's an odd angle) you can see how I arrange the tape, which is pretty close to how I've seen it on instructions. There are many how to videos on You Tube.
Another drawback to this sort of tape is that it's relatively expensive. I'm using a more moderately priced brand called "KT" that I picked up at a local CVS pharmacy using a 20 percent off coupon, so I paid just a tad over $10 for a box of KT pre-cut strips. There are more expensive brands that I plan to try, but the KT is working for me as long as I prepare my skin properly, so I'll finish off the second box before giving some SpiderTech a shot. If I apply it carefully, I find that the KT can withstand a sweaty, long ride and one shower, and still be worn the remainder of the day, but if I sleep with it on, it comes partially undone along the edges.
I'm sure I'm probably not doing this tape in the best possible way. Some fellow riders have told me I need to go for the SpiderTech brand. An expert might tell me I need to see a specialist to learn how to apply the tape. Others might say my application isn't terrible, but is a bit off, and they may be right, because a few days ago, I noticed a picture of young cycling star Andrew Talansky from the Tour de France that shows his knee taped somewhat differently, and he probably had a masseuse or expert to help him. I even had a fellow rider kid me that I'm trying to look "pro." But for now, what matters most to me is that the tape significantly reduces the grinding I experience.
The crepitus is by no means gone. The grinding sensation is reduced by about half. My theory is the taping sort of "lifts" the kneecap a bit and helps it track better during cycling, thus reducing the grinding, while also giving support to the surrounding muscles. I have no scientific proof for this--no digital "grindometer" data to share, but I know my knee, and it feels better with the tape on. So I think I'll keep using this sort of tape for longer rides, experiment with new taping and application techniques/advice, and not worry about the expense. Even if I spend $200 a year on tape, I figure that's a pretty cheap price to pay for better comfort day to day, and possibly, more longevity for my TKR.