Using Athletic Tape to Prevent Injury

By Nan Werther , last updated November 25, 2011

In order to prevent injury, many physical and sports therapists use athletic tape to prevent injury or further strain on healing areas. Injury is common among athletes and can be more debilitating if not treated properly or given enough time to heal. Experts have found that athletic tape can decrease an athlete's chance of re-injuring the same area, especially if used properly. Athletic tape is stronger than it looks. Indeed, the stretchy stuff can help support injured joints, overstretched ligaments, worn muscles and other injuries as well. In order to tape yourself or others with an injury, it's important to know how to do it properly for varying body parts.

How It Works

Athletic tape works by limiting a person's range of movement in a particular area to prevent abnormal movements that might further strain the already injured joint, muscle, or ligament. Additionally, tape helps provide support to the critical area as the muscles in the region are not as healthy and thus not as able to pull their own weight. Athletic tape is also thought to provide kinasthetic feedback to the body in times of stress. What this means is that if the ankle, for instance, were to begin rolling during a certain position then the tape would restrict this movement, thus in essence giving the body feedback that it needs to provide its own support in that area to prevent injury. Without taping, the athlete might be susceptible to the same kind of injury because the body is not as responsive.

While in and of itself athletic tape is a great rehabilitation tool for injuries, it needs to be used in addition to a program that re-trains the body and helps strengthen the surrounding or affected muscles in the injured area. A sports therapist should also be helping the athlete safely stretch and strengthen the injury in order to regain proper mobility.

Should an athlete injure an area too many times due to laxity of the joint or severe ligament damage, athletic tape can work as a sort of brace that provides another line of defense.

Types of Tape

Zinc oxide tape is usually white, tan or brown in color, non-elastic and sticky. Easy to tear and available in a variety of widths, this tape can be used for a multitude of applications. Using an underwrap can protect the skin while providing the necessary support for healing. However, if the injury is in an area where muscles will expand during exercise, then zinc tape should not be used to enclose or surround the region.

Elastic adhesive bandage is an elastic, sticky material that comes in a variety of widths as well. Good for taping injuries where muscle expansion will occur, this type of tape also makes an excellent anchor for zinc oxide tape to further restrict movement.

Cohesive Tape is an elastic bandage that will stick to itself but not your skin. It's great for wrapping joints and providiing compression for injured muscles as well as finishing off tapings.

Taping Tips

Over taping an injury can result in interrupted or cut-off circulation. This will restrict blood flow to the injured area, which can result in moderate to severe circulatory damage while delaying the healing. Athletic tape should be comfortable to wear while providing some stiffness. If upon wrapping it is uncomfortable to wear due to tightness or you can see a slight blue or purple color in your extremity, then the tape is too tight.

There are several types of wraps that can be used to provide the necessary levels of restriction, compression, support, or movement for the injured area. The Louisiana Wrap will help prevent inversion sprains while giving the necessary compression, and is great alongside cold therapy as it can be easily removed and applied multiple times.

A Basketweave Taping will provide support and compression for a severely injured ankle. Not only does it allow up and down movements but it prevents the sideways movements that can inflame the ligaments.

Desire simple support for weak ankles? Then use strapping to prevent sprain or rolling. Done correctly it should allow the athlete to move comfortably but prevent inversion of the joint. Taping will provide excellent support but will need to be reapplied at intervals to maintain its proper strength. If you find that your Archilles tendon gets overstretched easily then you can tape that as well to get the support you need.

There are specific kinds of taping or wrapping for injuries spanning the body. Depending on your personal needs or areas of injury, you can tape your groin, knee, thigh, hamstring, shins and lower leg regions, neck and upper back, or fingers.

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