Does ankle taping before exercise help prevent ankle sprains? Some exercise specialists think so. Some, including these authors, don't. They tested the effects of ankle tape and ankle braces on landing force. What they found suggests that ankle taping might prove harmful.
The authors had 14 healthy, active volunteers drop from a box onto a platform. The platform measured the force of the landing on the ankle. The volunteers went through three testing sessions. In one session they wore an ankle brace. In one their ankle was taped. And in another, they had no tape or brace. The volunteers did six stiff (knees straight) and six soft (knees bent) landings before and after 20 minutes on a treadmill.
What the authors found is that taping and bracing, in effect, short circuit the natural shock absorber. Normally, the feet, ankles, legs, and hips all work together to absorb forces from running and jumping. This research showed that taping and bracing compressed the landing force into a shorter time period. This means higher stress on the joints and muscles. It may also mean that the knee and hips have to work harder and deal with more force.
The authors also noted that the taping and bracing results were the same before and after the treadmill run. Past research suggests that tape and braces become looser during exercise, letting the joint move more freely. This would lessen any effect of taping and bracing.
However, the authors point out that the treadmill run in this study was much different than regular sports activity for many athletes. Many exercises demand more jumping, stopping, and bursts of activity. And 20 minutes is not a very long bout of exercise for many athletes. Also the braces were new and therefore very stiff. An older brace might lose its stiffness quicker.
More research is needed to find out what these results really mean. The authors suggest a detailed analysis of how the legs and hips handle landing force with and without ankle tape and ankle braces. They also feel that more research using different types of braces and more intense exercise would help focus the taping debate.Bryan L. Riemann, PhD, ATC, et al. Effect of Ankle Taping and Bracing on Vertical Ground Reaction Forces During Drop Landings Before and After Treadmill Jogging. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. December 2002. Vol. 32. No. 12. Pp. 628-635.