I am an athletic trainer with a college-level women's volleyball team. Many of our players ask me to tape their ankles as a precaution against injury. This takes a lot of time, not to mention the cost of the tape. Is there any evidence to support the use of taping for this purpose?
There isn't as much evidence to support the use of taping as a prophylactic (preventive) measure for first-time ankle sprains as there is for reducing the number of second (or third) recurrent fractures.
A recent study done by a group of physical therapists in a biomechanics laboratory at the School of Physiotherapy and Performance Society in Dublin, Ireland investigated the use of taping to prevent injuries during jumping/landing activities.
The subjects in the study were young men and women with a history of chronic ankle instability but who had never had rehab or surgery for the problem. After learning how to do a drop landing (jumping down from a platform onto a force plate), each subject was tested in three ways.
First, they jumped down on to the unstable foot/ankle without any supportive tape. They each did three jumps. Then they repeated the same three jumps with tape around the ankle. The next step was to complete 10 repetitions each of hopping, ladder, and cutting drills before being tested again. These particular exercises are typical of the type used in sports training. This final drop landing test was done with the tape still supporting the ankle, but this time the test was performed after exercising for almost a half hour (25-minutes).
Once the testing was done and the data was all collected, analysis showed that the taping did, indeed, hold the ankle better than without taping. And the tape was still effective after exercise. Results weren't any different or better between jumps made before and after exercise with tape. So long as the tape was on the ankle, the position of the foot and ankle remained the same.
For sure, there was more ankle plantar flexion and rear foot inversion when there was no tape used to support and hold a neutral ankle/foot position. Whether or not that prevents first-time injuries wasn't the focus of this study as everyone in the study had already experienced their first ankle sprain. More studies are needed in this area.
It may very well be worth the time and money to tape players who have had at least one previous ankle sprain. Taping doesn't replace the need to rehab the ankle and restore normal proprioception (sense of joint position) or kinesthesia (awareness of movement), which are both essential to normal, healthy ankle motion needed to avoid injuries.
Eamonn Delahunt, PhD, et al. Effect of Taping and Exercise on Ankle Joint Movement in Subjects with Chronic Ankle Instability: A Preliminary Investigation. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. August 2009. Vol. 90. No. 8. Pp. 1418-1422.
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