There are two reasons to wrap an ankle. The most common is to prevent a sprain, but it can also be done post-injury for support. David Leigh has been wrapping ankles for more than 35 years, more than 100,000 ankles in all by his estimate. A professor in Marquette University’s exercise science department, which is part of the school’s physical therapy program, Leigh says wrapping an ankle is a manual skill that anyone can learn.
It costs about $1 to wrap an ankle, and expenses can add up for kids who practice a lot, so the use of ankle braces is growing. Bracing technology has improved to the point, Leigh says, that it’s as good or better than taping. A good ankle brace is about $30, he says, “so for 60 bucks you buy a pair, lace them up and don’t have to wrap.”
However, most athletes prefer to be taped, he says, even though tape loses 50 percent of its effectiveness in 15 minutes. “They like the feel of taping better because it’s lighter, thinner than a brace,” he says. He adds that an ankle shouldn’t be kept taped more than 24 hours. One taping, though, is good for several kids’ leagues sporting events, three or four games in a day. The wrap will lose its effectiveness as the day wears on, however.
Here is how Leigh recommends taping an ankle. Materials needed: Roll of 1 1/2-inch athletic tape, bandage scissors.
1. Start with the pre-wrap (aka underwrap or pro wrap). Sold at sporting goods stores or pharmacies, it keeps the athletic tape from coming in contact with the skin and causing rashes or blisters. Begin wrapping at the toes, lightly, circling around the foot and up the ankle to 2 or 3 inches above the ankle joint (or work your way down from the top to the toes).
2. Next, apply a couple of circular strips of the athletic tape, overlapping by half, at that point above the ankle joint – let’s call it the anchor point – to hold the underwrap in place. When applying the tape, Leigh recommends keeping it close to the roll. If you have a long strip, you’ll lay it on too loosely. (And if the person has a hairy ankle, shave it to avoid skin irritation.)
3. To bolster the ankle, create a stirrup by applying three strips of tape, slightly overlapping, starting from an anchor point on one side of the ankle, traveling down below the arch, then up the other side, attaching at the opposite anchor point.
4. Secure the heel. Start at the front of the ankle bone and run the tape diagonally over the top of the foot and under the arch, then toward the inside of the heel. Go around the back of the heel and then back up across the front of the foot, making an X on top of the foot.
5. Now create a figure-8 strip: Begin on the outside of the ankle, just above the bone, by running tape over the top of the foot at an angle, down under the arch, then up the other side of the foot. Circle the ankle, bring the tape up and attach to the front of the leg where you started.
6. Go to the starting point; rewrap it all with the tape. As you move down the ankle, “the contour changes, so you have to change the angle of the tape,” he says. “If you just do circular, the tape gets gaps and may blister.”
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