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Tape Supports Ankle During Jumps

Posted on: 08/26/2009
Chronic ankle instability (CAI) can be the end of an athlete's career. If the ankle gives out when landing a jump, it can severely hamper the movements of gymnasts, volleyball players, basketball players, soccer players, and many others involved in sports that require jumping. Efforts have been made to research the best way to rehab this problem and then protect it from recurring. One of those methods is ankle taping. In this study, the effect of taping on the ankle joint and the rear foot movement on landing jumps is the focus.

Previous studies have shown that when the rear part of the foot is inverted (turned in slightly), the risk of ankle sprain increases. As the athlete lands and makes contact with the floor or ground, the inverted position of the rear foot strains the lateral (talofibular) ligament of the ankle. An unexpected landing or a landing with more force than the foot and ankle were prepared for can cause hyperinversion (increased inversion) and ankle sprain.

A second factor in ankle sprains is the position of the front part of the foot. When the toes are pointed down, the ankle is in a position of plantar flexion. Plantar flexion combined with inversion of the rear foot, has been shown to increase the risk of ankle sprain. That's why so many studies have focused on seeing if wearing an ankle splint or other external support would help prevent first-time ankle sprains and/or prevent recurrent (second and third) sprains.

This study takes it a step further and investigates the effect of taping on ankle stability during a functional activity such as when landing jumps. The study was done by a group of physical therapists in a biomechanics laboratory at the School of Physiotherapy and Performance Society in Dublin, Ireland. The subjects in the study were young men and women with a history of chronic ankle instability but who had never had rehab or surgery for the problem.

After learning how to do a drop landing (jumping down from a platform onto a force plate), each subject was tested in three ways. First, they jumped down on to the unstable foot/ankle without any supportive tape. They each did three jumps. Then they repeated the same three jumps with tape around the ankle. The next step was to complete 10 repetitions each of hopping, ladder, and cutting drills before being tested again. These particular exercises are typical of the type used in sports training. This final drop landing test was done with the tape still supporting the ankle, but this time the test was performed after exercising for almost a half hour (25-minutes).

At the start of the study, the investigators expected that the ankle tape would restrict ankle and rear foot motion. They also expected the tape to lose its ability to restrict motion after exercising. For those who might like to reproduce this study or use tape with their patients, the authors give clear, step-by-step instructions on how they applied the tape. As for the force plate, this computerized device records the moment the foot hits the ground (called the initial contact) and the amount of force exerted. At the same time, 12 high-speed motion capture cameras were used to record ankle and foot motion from all angles.

Once the testing was done and the data was all collected, analysis showed that the taping did, indeed, hold the ankle better than without taping. And the tape was still effective after exercise. Results weren't any different or better between jumps made before and after exercise with tape. So long as the tape was on the ankle, the position of the foot and ankle remained the same. For sure, there was more ankle plantar flexion and rear foot inversion when there was no tape used to support and hold a neutral ankle/foot position.

So! This is good news for athletes with chronic ankle instability. Not only is it worth the time to tape the ankle before each practice or game, but the effects hold over a period of at least 25 minutes. Now, that's not the same as playing hard for an entire two-hour practice or game, but it's a start. With a goal of preventing repeated ankle sprain injuries in sports athletes, taping is a good tool.

There were a few caveats (beware statements) in this study. First of all, only one method of taping was tested. There may be other taping techniques that are more (or less) effective with jumping. Second, there were only 11 people in the study. That's a very small number, making this a preliminary study. Future studies are advised in order to repeat the results with more subjects. And finally, drop landing onto a force plate in a controlled laboratory study doesn't really mimic the playing conditions on the field with other players making body contact with the athlete at the time of the jump landing. To off set this problem, the authors suggest future studies also include using different drop and jump landing protocols.

Eamonn Delahunt, PhD, et al. Effect of Taping and Exercise on Ankle Joint Movement in Subjects with Chronic Ankle Instability: A Preliminary Investigation. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. August 2009. Vol. 90. No. 8. Pp. 1418-1422.

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