A very effective way of reducing the occurrence of ankle sprains is to tape the ankle. Ankle taping procedures have been used by athletic trainers for decades in with the goal of protecting the joint. Most ankle taping procedures are intended to restrict excessive motion of the ankle joint while preventing normal ranges of motion to occur. Many researchers have found this to be an effective method for accomplishing this goal and for reducing the number of ankle sprain injuries.
There are a number of ankle taping techniques that are used. However, ankle taping jobs that are meant specifically for reducing ankle sprain occurrence and severity have a few common features to them. Bear in mind that each trainer or person applying the tape has his or her own style and the level of experience will come into play when tape is applied. Overall, the approach has a lot of evidence to prove that it works.
The main components of an effective ankle taping include these techniques: a Basket weave, Heel locks, and Figure-of-eight taping.
The Basket weave is the first technique applied. It involves placing tape from the inside part of the lower leg, wrapping around the bottom of the foot and ending on the outside of the lower leg. Then a strip is placed from the outside of the foot, around the Achilles tendon and ending on the inside of the foot. This procedure is repeated and slightly offset from the previous spot two to three times. The end result looks sort of like a woven basket.
The Heel lock starts on the top of the foot, wraps around the bottom, then the side of the heel and then back up to the top of the foot to lock the heel in position. This may be repeated once or twice.
The Figure-of-eight starts at the top of the foot and serpentines around the foot and the lower leg to add stability to the joint. This may be the most important feature of an ankle taping job. Research suggests that at least three Figure-of-eight wraps can reduce the occurrence of ankle sprains [i].
The main drawbacks to taping the ankle are that it is costly, time consuming, and can inconsistent. Each time an ankle is taped the support is destroyed after it is cut off. Next time more tape must be used to tape the ankle. It has been estimated that each ankle wrapping job can cost $ 1.37 not including labor and pre-wrap material [ii]. Over the course of a season this can get expensive to an athlete who is having one or both ankles taped before every practice and game. In addition an ankle taping can take about 5 minutes as opposed to a brace which can be slipped on in seconds. With respect to consistency, no two ankle jobs are the same since they are hand done by a human being. But for this reason they may be more comfortable than a brace. While tape offers more support than an ankle brace when it is first applied, moisture from sweat and movement loosen up the tape slightly and some support is lost [iii], [iv], [v].
In summary ankle taping is a highly effective method for preventing ankle sprains. It is not the most cost effective and there are a few minor considerations, but if you can afford it this is one of the best and most comfortable means for preventing ankle sprains.