Taping vs. Bracing in Athletics

Taping vs. Bracing in Athletics
Ankle sprains are the most common sports related injuries in the United States.  It is estimated that more than 2 million ankle injuries occur annually as a result of sports participation.  Because of such a high incidence rate athletes in the 1940-50’s began to have their ankles taped to try to prevent injury (prophylactic taping) and to provide protection once a sprain had occurred.  Ankle braces were later introduced and today there are countless varieties of braces from which athletes can choose.
I get asked frequently which is the most effective, taping or wearing an ankle brace.  This is not the simplest question to answer.  A large number of studies have examined taping vs. bracing with some conflicting results.  Most studies found that, in general, taping and bracing both reduce rates of ankle sprains, but exactly how is somewhat unclear.  It makes sense that taping and bracing provide an external ridged support that protects the ankle and makes it more difficult to “roll”, but it may not be that simple.  Several studies have found that with taped ankles this mechanical support is lost very early on when athletes begin practice or competition.  So is ankle taping not as effective as bracing?….Not exactly.  Studies have suggested that tape provides increased proprioceptive feedback to the foot/ankle by the tug and pressure the tape applies to the skin.  This increased biofeedback decreases rates of ankle sprains and re-injuries by improving neuromuscular control of the ankle.
When I have an athlete trying to determine whether to tape or use a brace I try to lay out the benefits of both, have the athlete try each when possible, and then have the athlete decide which they prefer. 
Here is what I tell athletes:
  • ·        Is lighter, more form fitting than a brace
  •          May have increased proprioceptive feedback
  •          May lose its mechanical support early with activity
  •          Is not the most time convenient due to having to be applied by a person skilled              in taping

  •          Provides consistent mechanical support
  •          Can easily be applied and retightened if brace loosens
  •          May feel “bulky” compared to tape
  •          If purchasing an ankle brace, make sure it fits (I also find that athletes are more           satisfied with a simple lace-up style brace than one that has multiply straps)

Once athletes are provided with this information they can make the decision that is best for them.   Of course taping and bracing is no substitute for proper rehabilitation of ankle sprains which athletic trainers and physical therapists provide.

Dustin Eslinger, M.A., ATC
Physical Therapy Consultants, Inc.

September 16th, 2015

Posted In: General

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