Frequently Asked Questions

I've been taping my left ankle before basketball practice. Since I sprained it twice last year, it seems more wobbly than ever. But I saw a physical therapist who told me that taping may not be helpful if it's not done right. She showed me a way to do it that is supposed to help improve the way the tape moves with the skin. Do you think this really matters?

According to a recent study from a group of Australian movement experts -- yes. Taping does seem to reduce the likelihood of ankle sprains. And putting it on in such a way to mimic the natural movement of the skin may be important. The reason for this is a phenomenon called cutaneous receptor discharge. Cutaneous refers to skin. Receptors in the skin that pick up messages and relay them to the muscles and joints may not be getting the message through with tape on that doesn't allow the skin to move normally. Instead of a meaningful message, it adds to the noise entering the system. It's also possible that putting the tape on too loose or too tight alters the pattern of sensory signal patterns. If either of these situations occur, the ankle isn't able to detect true sensory change. In future studies, applying the tape in a way that mimics the natural skin stretch patterns will be tried. Finding ways to tape that avoid stretching the skin in multiple directions is an important next step. In other words, these same researchers say they will try and match the normal skin stretch patterns that occur with ankle motion during testing with tape in place. Different types of tape will also be tested. And an effort will be made to find out where the communication break down occurs. Is it tape to skin, skin to muscle, or within the muscles themselves?

Kathryn M. Refshauge, DipPhty, GradDipManip Ther, MBiomedE, PhD, et al. The Effect of Ankle Taping on Detection of Inversion-Eversion Movements in Participants with Recurrent Ankle Sprain. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. February 2009. Vol. 37. No. 2. Pp. 371-375.

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