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How to Wrap a Sprained Ankle

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT January 16, 2020 0 Comments

taped ankle

If you’ve sprained your ankle, chances are that you’re experiencing pain and swelling. With this common injury, a great way to address these problems is to have some kind of ankle support (such as a wrap, tape, or brace). Keep reading to learn how to wrap a sprained ankle.

Choosing the Right Wrapping or Support

Ultimately, you want to choose the option that maximizes your ability to use your ankle while providing the potential benefits of swelling management, decreased pain, and support. The more comfortable you are using your ankle and bearing weight through it, the better.

Athletic Taping

Athletic tape is a cheap, quick, economical way to provide ankle support. There are several different techniques available for an ankle sprain, but they all have the same goal: to provide short-term support. 

Pros and Cons:

  • Easily accessible, it can be found in a first aid kit and any pharmacy.

  • It can be taught to do on your own, or by a friend or family member.

  • A great short term option for participating in sports and higher-level activities.

  • A way to test the effectiveness of ankle support to decide if you should invest in a more expensive option.

  • Tape can cause blistering and skin irritation with use, especially in the corners.

  • It is usually only good for a few hours maximum due to low breathability.

  • The lack of stretch in athletic minimize swelling management but maximizes temporary support.

How to Apply Athletic Tape

Place the ankle in the position that you want it to be maintained in (at an approximately 90-degree angle, or “neutral”).  Keep the area clean, dry, and free of hair. As you lay the tape down, find a balance of stability without pulling on the tape too hard and restricting blood flow. 

  1. Pre-wrap

    This is a soft layer that you will apply to protect the skin from the adhesive. Simply roll it around the entire foot and ankle where the tape will be placed.  Minimize any bumps from the wrap that can cause irritation.

  2. Anchors

    Wrap one circumferential piece of tape around each end of the pre-wrap, at approximately the mid-calf and mid-foot (between the arch of the foot and the ball of your foot).

  3. Stirrups

    These are meant to provide generalized lateral (side to side) stability. Start the tape on the inside of the top anchor, then bring it under the foot (where the heel and arch meet). Then, pull it past the outer ankle bone and attach it to the outer edge of the shin on the other side of the anchor. Apply 2-4 strips that overlap about 50%. This will be based on the amount of stability or size of the ankle.

  4. Horseshoe

    This tape pattern is meant to support the top section of the ankle joint itself by creating a figure-eight pattern. At a slightly upward angle to accommodate the curve of the top of the ankle, start by placing the tape across the shin bone. Then, pull it behind the leg/ankle until it crosses back over the other side of the tape.

  5. Heel Locks

    This is a more complicated wrap that will take some practice, when done right it gives the heel additional support. Start with a piece of tape on the top of the foot facing diagonally toward the outside of the ankle. Then, bring it under the arch and across the outside edge of the heel. Continue the ankle of the tape as you wrap it around the back of the ankle, anchoring the end piece back at the top of the ankle. Repeat the process with another piece of tape, this time pointing the tape inward (the exact opposite direction to support the inner heel).

  6. Cover gaps

    Finish by covering the pre-wrap gaps with tape, keeping it parallel with the bottom of the foot. You can do one strip of tape at a time over the entire foot and ankle, layering the pieces (usually more comfortable) or simply wrap the tape around the entire leg from foot and ankle until everything is covered.

    For a visual and alternative option:

    Kinesiology Tape

    K-tape is a popular, colorful, cost-efficient option as well. It has elastic properties that make it more versatile in its use.

    Pros and Cons:

    • It can be used for different purposes including swelling and bruising management, muscle relaxation, muscle recruitment, and body awareness.

    • Easy to cut and apply with proper education. 

    • Great for training coordination to prevent further injury.

    • Can be worn for several days, even with showering.

    • Less inherent stability in the tape due to its elasticity.

    • Time and patience needed for continual application.

    • Risk of skin irritation, especially with removal.

    • More expensive than athletic tape.

    • It can also be used to test other possible ankle support options.

    How to Apply Kinesiology Tape

    This technique can be as few as one to as many as four strips. Start with a small amount of stretch in the tape to assess the efficacy and skin tolerance. Then increase the stretch to what feels most comfortable.

    1. Ankle Wrap

      Cut a piece of tape that will wrap around the ankle. Place the center of the tape under the heel with it facing forward at a diagonal. Then, with one loose end of the bandage at a time, pull it across the front of the ankle at an angle until it crosses to the opposite side of your foot. Repeat this with the second arm and create an “X” on the top of the foot and ankle (where they meet).

    2. Heel Support

      Cut similar strips as above. Then, place the center of the tape under the heel, this time facing backward at a diagonal. The “X” will now be made at the back of the ankle.

    Compression Wrap

    There are several different possibilities for compression wraps, including elastic bandages and even  compression socks.  These are specifically designed to manage both pain and swelling.

    Pros and Cons:

    • Cost-efficient, easy to purchase online.

    • Improves ankle comfort and decreases swelling.

    • Easy and quick to put on and remove.

    • No specialization required, simply order the size that fits best.

    • NOT meant for ankle support.

    • If an elastic wrap, risk of skin tear from fasteners.

    Simply put the wrap on snugly around the ankle or don it like a sock. Find a balance between compression and comfort. You don’t want it so tight that it restricts blood flow.

    Ankle Braces

    An ankle brace is a possible option when you need more stability for your ankle. There are different options that provide support in trouble areas (most often side to side). 

    Pros and Cons:

    • Ankle stability for return to activities that might otherwise result in reinjury.

    • Varied versions for stability and comfort (including a splint).

    • Affordable option with long term use possible.

    • Be wary of too much confidence or dependence on the brace, which can lead to ankle weakness or reinjury. 

    • Some options are adjustable to allow for specialization.

    • Limited shoe options to wear one with.

    Click Here to Learn More About Choosing the Right Ankle Brace

    How Compression Aids an Ankle Sprain

    When swelling accumulates in the ankle and foot, there are several ways to promote movement of the fluid.  Compression is one of the most effective options, as it will literally “push” fluid out of the injured area.  In addition to swelling management, pressure from a wrap can also soothe irritated nerve endings that are causing pain and sensitivity. Lastly, compression can help boost your body’s own awareness and confidence in bearing weight through the ankle again when you’re ready.  

    Learn more ways to treat a sprained ankle

    How Long Should a Sprained Ankle be Wrapped?

    Here is a general timeline for each option:

    • Athletic tape:  1-6 hours. Remove with tape scissors.

    • Kinesiology tape:  3-5 days. Remove slowly and carefully.

    • Compression wrap:  Wear as needed.

    • Ankle brace:  Wear as needed.  Try to gradually decrease time-worn as possible to decrease dependence on it.

    • Replace compression wraps or ankle braces when they lose their stability and compression qualities.

    Should you Wrap a Sprained Ankle Overnight?

    The opinions for wrapping an ankle at night vary. Since you are lying down to rest, you probably won’t need a wrap for swelling control or comfort. If you are an active sleeper and find ankle movement is affecting your sleep quality due to pain and discomfort, you may trial wearing a wrap or brace overnight. Do not wear anything at night if your skin sensation is limited, as it can lead to skin compromise. Be cautious not to wrap your foot to snugly and cause blood restriction too.

    When considering the use of this information, if you’re not sure what option is best for you, get the advice of a doctor, such as your family medicine doctor. It may be useful to seek more specialized advice from an orthopedist, physical therapist, or podiatrist, for the best-recommended ankle support options.

    Safe and Effective Wrapping

    Most people think of an ankle wrap as a form of support. However, your ankle should be ready to bear weight before considering the use of an ankle wrap for comfort with activities. When wearing a brace, always be aware of how the ankle is feeling and make sure it isn’t masking pain that would cause you to push yourself too hard. Start slow when testing your ankle’s tolerance in the wrap, beginning with a small amount of time and low impact activity and progressing from there.


    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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