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Taping for Ankle Instability

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT February 28, 2022 0 Comments

fitting ankle wrap

Ankle instability is common after sustaining any sort of ankle injury, particularly an inversion sprain. If you are in the process of recovering and are wondering how to boost your ankle stability, taping might be your answer. There are many potential benefits of taping the ankle. Keep reading to learn more about the basics of taping for ankle instability.

Benefits of Taping for Ankle Instability

There are a lot of benefits that are associated with taping the ankle. However, some are better supported with research than others. Some orthopedic doctors and physical therapists do not actually use taping simply because of the mixed literature. Yet, there is no research to indicate adverse effects, so it is certainly worth a try. Here are a few of the expected benefits when ankle taping is utilized correctly:

  • Help prevent the recurrence of an ankle injury, such as a sprain (best supported in research)
  • Better proprioceptive awareness with daily activities
  • Improved ankle range of motion, particularly dorsiflexion, and coordination secondary to better ankle mechanics
  • Gently lifts the superficial skin and connective tissue to promote blood flow and healing
  • Pain relief secondary to mild compression and circulatory changes
  • Improved swelling management
  • Increased comfort with daily activities or sport
  • Support strained ankle ligaments
  • Low cost way to assess the efficiency of a brace
  • A tool to help boost your recovery potential and overall healing process
  • Secondary benefits for any other underlying foot and ankle issues- such as calf pain, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and more

How to Tape for Ankle Stability

There are different types of tape and techniques that you can apply to the ankle for promoting stability. Which one is right for you will depend on your activity level and rehab goals. The primary two types of tape are athletic tape and kinesiology tape.

Athletic Tape

Athletic tape is not flexible and restricts the motion of the ankle for short term support, most often following an acute injury. This is typically reserved for athletes after sports injuries to wear for a few hours at a time when they are practicing or competing. A physical therapist, orthopedic doctor, or athletic trainer would most likely be the one applying this type of tape to your ankle. 

Kinesiology Tape

Kinesiology tape has become a popular option for daily activities and athletic events alike. It is designed to be less restrictive and more comfortable for wearing for up to two or three days at a time. With instruction from your physical therapist or a general understanding of how to apply it, you can even apply kinesiology tape to your own ankle as needed.

There are several different ways to apply kinesiology tape. However, there are some basic ways to provide ankle stability.

You can try following the steps below to get started:

General Ankle Stability

Use this technique to prevent excessive medial/lateral movement (commonly needed with inversion ankle sprains)

  • Start by placing the ankle in a neutral position with the ankle at 90 degrees angle
  • Grab your tape roll (or precut pieces if you have them) and cut a piece that measures from a few inches above the outer ankle, wraps under the arch of the foot and reaches the inside ankle bone
  • Round all of the edges with your scissors
  • Tear off the paper back of the top 1-2 inches of the tape and place it above the lateral ankle bone as an anchor
  • Apply 0-10% stretch on the tape as you wrap it just behind the ankle lateral ankle bone and under the arch of the foot
  • Continue with the same amount of stretch until you reach the medial (inner) ankle bone
  • Lay the final 1-2 inches of the tape flat on the skin, on or above the medial ankle bone, with no stretch whatsoever
  • Firmly and thoroughly rub the tape to make sure it stays in place
  • With this ankle “stirrup” technique, you should now notice gentle ankle support that helps prevent inverting the ankle excessively- that can strain lateral ligaments- and reduces any local ankle pain
  • For a bigger ankle or additional support, you can apply extra strips that overlap and cover more of the ankle bones and arch as needed

Proprioception of the Ankle Joint

Use this technique combined with the one above for even more stability of the ankle joint

  • Start by placing the ankle in neutral
  • Cut your tape to the appropriate length- this time going from the base of the big toe- across the ankle bones- and to the base of the little toe via the back of the heel and achilles tendon (the tape will be parallel with the floor)
  • Round the edges with your scissors
  • Once again, make sure there are anchors on each side of the tape that have no stretch
  • Place one anchor on the inside edge of the arch right at the base of the big toe
  • Apply 0-10% stretch to the tape as your place the tape along the inner edge of the foot/arch and across the inner ankle bone
  • Then, wrap the tape around the achilles tendon with no tension
  • Continue laying the tape, now on the outer edge of the ankle, with 0-10% stretch 
  • Keep applying the tape over the outer ankle bone and along the outer edge of the foot
  • Rub the tape thoroughly for proper stick
  • As above, you can choose to add more strips that overlap if needed

Tips for Applying Ankle Tape

Kinesiology taping can be done at home once you get the hang of it. There are a few details and tips that can help you maximize the comfort level, efficacy,  and life of your tape when it is applied. Review these tips before getting started:

 

  • Make sure the area you are applying tape to is clean and shaven (if needed)
  • Round your edges to maximize the life of your tape- that way it doesn’t get caught to clothing
  • Never apply any stretch to the ends of your tape- this will reduce the longevity
  • Rub the tape to activate the adhesive qualities via warmth and friction
  • Remove kinesiology tape slowly without ripping to avoid skin damage
  • Once applied, you can wear your kinesiology tape for one to three days. You can even shower with the tape on (simply pat dry)
  • Kinesiology tape is latex free but some people are still sensitive to adhesives and certain dyes within the tape. Watch for skin allergies, swelling, or excessive itching.
  • Talk to your physical therapist for guidance
  • Combine kinesiology tape with other ankle instability recovery options for improved stability.

Ankle Stability Exercises

Treating Ankle Instability

Taping vs. Bracing - Which is Better?

There is no right answer as to whether the use of tape or an ankle brace is better for dealing with ankle instability. There are a few factors that will play a role in which option is better for you, such as:

  • Short Term and Long Term Goals

    If you are in the acute phase of ankle recovery, the use of kinesiology tape is a great short term option for boosting ankle stability. Whereas, if you are dealing with chronic ankle instability or are looking for a long term solution for boosting your ankle support, a brace may be a great option

  • Preferences

    A brace or ankle sleeve that provides similar support to your ankle as a long term solution that doesn’t require the continual time intensive replacement of kinesiology tape.

  • Budget

    Kinesiology tape needs to be replaced frequently and can add up in cost while wearing a brace tends to be a more cost effective option.

  • Activity Level

    Depending on your activity level you may find that one option works better for you than the other.

Regardless, it’s always best to talk to your doctor or physical therapist about which option is best for you. It’s important to note that both bracing and taping have great potential benefits, but too much external support can also weaken the ankle further or make it dependent on these devices. Thus, finding the right balance of support and ankle use is key. 

Using Tape for Better Ankle Stability

Taping is a great tool for boosting ankle stability as you recover. Overall, it’s low cost and has many benefits that make it a favorite among physical therapists and patients alike. It’s definitely worth trying to help regain confidence in your ankle following an injury. It is just another step that can help you in your recovery process to a more stable ankle. Talk to your doctor immediately if your symptoms worsen or they are affecting your quality of life for further medical advice.

Sources:

https://www.kttape.co.uk/pages/ankle-stability

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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