What is ankle taping and bracing?
Ankle taping and bracing provides stability to the ankle joint during athletic activity; whether to protect the joint from injury or to stabilize and existing injury.
Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports-related injuries in the United States which can result in significant breaks from sports, training and other physical activities. Ankle sprains tend to involve partial or complete ligament tears.
The concept of prophylactic (preventative) ankle wrapping was introduced more than 60 years ago to prevent or reduce the severity of ankle injuries. It may be applied before practice or a competition.
Ankle bracing and taping should be done under the guidance of a sports medicine physician or a training athletic staff.
What is the difference between ankle taping and bracing?
The concept of ankle bracing evolved from ankle taping.
Braces are presently being used instead of traditional taping by many athletes at all levels of competition. Ankle braces are self-applied, reusable, and re-adjustable. In the long run, braces are likely more cost-effective than taping. Disadvantages of bracing include the fact that many athletes feel less comfortable or stable when wearing braces than they do when the ankle is taped. Braces also may tear and require replacement.
Another disadvantage to ankle taping is you can’t self-apply it, hence you can’t remove and reapply when it causes discomfort. Taping may also cause skin inflammation and sores.
Some athletes find ankle tape more comfortable and stable than ankle braces, however.
Is ankle taping and bracing effective?
Many studies have shown that braces are slightly more effective than taping, but that both were better than no support. Both have been found to effectively reduce range of motion, reduce the risk of injuries or help heal ankle injuries that have occurred. They are also beneficial during rehabilitation after major ankle injuries, when patients begin physical activities again.
Studies have shown that simply wearing high-top instead of low-top shoes prevented some ankle injuries, while wearing high-top shoes plus taping led to more than 50% fewer injuries than in test groups wearing low-top shoes plus taping.
How is ankle taping and bracing done?
Ankle bracing and taping should be done by a sports medicine physician or a training athletic staff or under their guidance. The following are descriptions of the ankle-taping and bracing procedures done to protect an existing ankle injury.
- The ankle injury is first assessed by the doctor, and radiological tests assess the extent of injury. Open injuries would be treated first and dressed before ankle taping and bracing.
- There are many different types of athletic tape available. The healthcare professional would advise an appropriate type of tape.
- For standard ankle application, the tape of choice is 1.5- or 2-in. (3.8- or 5.1-cm) white, porous athletic tape or nonelastic tape.
- It is applied on clean and dry skin. It is wrapped from the midfoot to one third of the way up the lower leg.
- Braces generally come in two types, though small variations exist between various manufacturers. A healthcare professional would advise the ideal brace.
- One type of ankle braces is nonrigid and resembles a thick canvas or nylon lace-up sock.
- Some nonrigid braces are also made of neoprene. The nonrigid style provides compression to the ankle, may help in injury prevention and provides stability.
- The other type of ankle brace is the semirigid type. Its construction is similar to the nonrigid type but with the added feature of molded plastic struts or air cushions.
- These braces provide more stability and are often used during the rehabilitation following ankle injury.
- Most nonrigid and semirigid braces also use fabric straps to simulate heel locks. These are usually on the outside of the brace and fastened with Velcro.
A common concern is that prolonged taping or bracing of the ankle may result in weak ankles that are actually more prone to injury, hence it is important to follow the instructions of usage from a healthcare professional.