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To Tape Or Not To Tape

Posted on February 16, 2016 at 2:25 PM

To tape or not to tape? That is the question. Athletes come in preparing for competition and want a magical tape job on the joint of choice. There was a time I even taped the water boy’s wrist only because it made him feel included, part of the team. And while circumstance made that o.k., there are several taping requests that I have denied. So here is the scoop.

 

Just for clarity, there are several kinds of tape, all with separate purposes and techniques. This particular article is specifically on the use of athletic tape, its purpose and best use. So many athletes, coaches and parents are under the impression that athletic tape is for stability. It sort of is, indirectly. Those asking for the tape usually feel the tighter the better and that if they can’t move, then they have a much smaller chance of injury or reinjury. This is completely untrue. Injury prevention is specifically about maintaining proper joint mobility, joint arthrokinematics (function) and muscle balance/recruitment. If any joint has been stretched beyond its normal limit and become lax, athletic taping may be an option. However, not because the tape is tight and restricts normal motion.

 

Athletic tape is cotton tape that has a strong adhesive on the back. There is no elastic quality about this tape. Several studies have been done regarding the stability and how exactly this technique works. When regarding the ankle, it has been shown that athletic tape does not provide stability, as in lack of range of motion. The tape, however, does provide some kinesthetic awareness. It allows receptors to determine where our body is in space, reducing the chance of the joint to go beyond its normal motion. Plus the actual feeling on the skin, gives a feeling of support, which many people like. This tape, when worn will loosen with motion and possibly when warmed with body heat.

The criteria I use when choosing to use athletic tape:


It must be a small joint. This seems a little restrictive, but I do not tape for knee ACL, PCL or MCL, shoulder dysfunction and elbows are iffy. Our muscles are strong, long and mobile. Joint dysfunction or powerful trauma is often the cause of injury. These joints are more powerful than a bit of tape. Often times even using a strong metal brace is not enough to prevent a ligamentous injury in these larger joints. Tape just is no match. I will tape fingers, wrists, hands, feet and ankles.


It must be able to maintain normal motion.  While we hope to reduce excessive motion, we do still need to maintain normal motion.  Running or jumping would be hindered if you could not plantar flex your ankle.  Taping a finger into extension without having any flexion is an injury waiting to happen because it would leave the joint(s) vulnerable not only to possibly poking someone or  getting jammed, but if it got caught on anything you may not only end up with a finger injury, but a hand injury as well.  Everything needs to remain functional.


It must be a joint. Now of course if I need to I will use it to cover a wound/bandaid so that play can continue without blood. In this case I use it loosely. Often only half way around the extremity at a time, until it is secure. There was a time when we were taught to use athletic tape (or other barbaric methods such as plastic wrap) to prevent the pulling away of muscle from the bone during medial shin splints. This, however, causes a physiological issue for the muscle tissue (and other soft tissues), as it does not stop the muscle from pulling away from the bone. Now the muscle does not have the space it needs to contract, but gets compressed (athletic tape is does not have an elastic componet to it), often times causing more damage to the muscle tissue.


The joint must be ready for competition. Swelling, bruising, range of motion, strength and balance must all be in check. The athlete needs to be able to show that athletic tasks can be performed without compensation (such as limping, for example).  Please note that applying athletic tape does not provide healing or reduce the injury you have already sustained.  It just helps keep things in check, a little protection.

 

If you are covering a game and not regularly working with the team everyday, taping of the smaller joints probably won’t hurt anyone. However, when you have a team that is getting consistent treatment, it is very important to treat the dysfunction. Injury prevention is about maintaining normal joint motion, proper muscle recruitment and improved posture of every joint.  Please feel free to check out these studies regarding ankle tape for stability.

 

Categories: athletic training, injury prevention, performance

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