How To Tape An Ankle: Materials, Steps & More
Bad news: you sprained your ankle.
Good news: you found this article!
Research shows the quicker you seek care and medical advice, the better the outcome.
We agree that spraining your ankle hurts, and you want it to get better as soon as possible. The first step in recovery is to protect the ankle through bracing or ankle taping to set yourself up for success.
How to Tape an Ankle in 7 Steps
- Obtain the materials. Leuko or kinesiology tape/athletic tape and scissors are required. We highly recommend using pre-wrap as the adhesive from the tape can irritate the skin.
- Apply the pre-wrap beginning at the arch of the foot. Proceed to strapping it towards the top of the foot, around the foot, ankle, and leg, so no skin is showing.
- Apply anchor strips at either end of the pre-wrap.
- Stirrups. If you injured the outer aspect of your ankle, then attach a stirrup on the inside of the leg then. Wrap it under the heel, then snuggly pull up on it, then anchor. Attach it to the outer leg. Repeat this 2 more times.
- If you injured the inside aspect of the ankle, then reverse the directions.
- Apply horseshoes to secure the stirrups and cover up any pre-wrap windows.
- Figure 6’s. The strips of tape begin slightly below and behind the starting point of the stirrups. The tape is angled down underneath the heel. Pulled under the foot, across the outer ankle, then diagonally up and back to the starting point. Repeat this step 2-3 times, then perform it 2-3 times, beginning on the outer leg.
- Heel locks. This will be the most confusing step. Begin taping the front of the ankle and then angle it down across the foot’s arch. Passing it underneath the foot brings it to the outer aspect of the heel. Move it around the heel, then down the inner aspect of the heel. Finish by pulling it diagonally back up to the front of the ankle. Then repeat this step in reverse.
Joe Norton, PT, OCS, CFMT, & RunnerClick guest writer, shared the following detailed video on how to tape an ankle.
What is an ankle sprain?
It is a ligamentous injury where the shin bones twist excessively relative to the foot or vice versa.
Ligaments connect bones to provide ankle stability. Their job is to create tension. When an ankle joint is stretched to its limit, a ligament prevents it from subluxing or dislocating. However, if the force of a movement is greater than the capacity of the ligament, the result is an ankle injury.
The severity of the injury is based on the extent of the damage to the ligament. A mild injury is when the ligament gets overly stretched but does not tear. In this situation, there is slight bruising and swelling, minimal flexibility loss, and usually no loss in functional mobility.
In moderate to severe injuries, the ligament fibers will experience partial to full tearing. There will be much more bruising, moderate to marked amounts of swelling, considerable movement deficits, and ligamentous laxity (looseness).
In all scenarios, a positive outcome can be achieved as long as the next steps are managed appropriately.
Ankle Sprain: The 3-Step Healing Process
Our bodies have an amazing, predictable, 3-step healing process.
1. Inflammatory phase
We enter the acute inflammatory phase at the onset of the sprained ankle injury, characterized by pain, swelling, heat, and redness.
This is caused by chemicals, enzymes, and fluids rushing to the damaged tissue to clean the debris and signal to the brain an injury has occurred.
2. Repair phase
Next, we transition into the repair phase. This is when the body signals the construction crew to rebuild the injured tissue.
During these first 2 stages, we must protect the ligaments of the injured ankle. This is because they are vulnerable to re-injury and not capable of providing stability during this time.
These stages may take 6 to 12 weeks, depending on the severity of the injury. It is here that bracing is most useful!
3. Remodeling phase
The final phase of healing is the remodeling phase. The newly rebuilt tissue is weaker and less resilient than mature ligaments.
Think of it as the teenager of body tissues: they are immature, cranky, and perhaps not as capable (sorry teenagers).
Gradually over time, tissues adapt to the stress. Strengthening, stretching, and other physical exercises will stimulate the ligament’s growth to return you to full function.
Be patient, as this entire process can take 6 to 12 months from the initial injury! Unfortunately, most folks skip the gradual process and rather jump into full participation in the activity of their choosing… This may explain why 80% of ankle sprains recur.
What exactly is taping?
Taping or bracing can be utilized for numerous reasons and at different function stages. If you are a cutting sport athlete (soccer, basketball, tennis) or running on uneven terrain, then taping can help prevent an ankle sprain.
If you have already sprained your ankle, it will increase the protection to the ligaments and joints while they are on the mend.
And lastly, if you happen to sprain your ankle frequently, it will give you added stability and enhance your balance and muscle activation to facilitate optimal ankle movement.
Of note, taping will not restore your balance or tissue strength. These must be accomplished separately through a specific exercise program.
What does the tape do?
Its mechanical effects are the most obvious. It limits joint mobility and compresses the tissues. This provides extra support similar to that of the ligament and controls the quantity of swelling.
Neuromuscularly, applying tape to the skin enhances the nervous system’s proprioception, the body’s internal sense of movement or position.
This facilitates improved balance and acts as an internal support system to control the ankle’s movement.
How to best utilize taping?
After a mild injury, taping can be beneficial for the first 2 weeks after the injury. Then progressive physical activity for another 2 weeks will prepare the body to resume all physical activities.
In the cases of a moderate or severe ankle sprain, an ankle brace could be worn for 3 to 6 weeks or longer.
Lastly, we have a robust body of evidence to support physical therapy following an ankle sprain. The earlier you see a PT, the better the outcome.
PTs are experts in movement. They will examine the injured area to identify the root cause of ankle pain then provide a treatment plan to address the underlying issues limiting movement.
When a PT combines exercise, taping, and manual therapy following an ankle sprain, people feel and move better than those receiving no care or only exercises.
At the end of the day, an ankle sprain must not be taken lightly. It can be a problematic injury affecting movement in the short and long term.
There are many ways to care for it on your own. Tape is a simple and effective place to start.
*This article has been written in collaboration with Joe Norton, Board Certified Orthopedic Physical Therapy Specialist & Certified Functional Manual Therapist
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