Tape Me Up

December 7, 2012

We see elite athletes, rugby players even, with taping on various body parts as take to the track, field or arena. Have you ever wondered what the tape is doing? Some of you may have experienced taping personally, through your sports or seeing a Physiotherapist. Did you understand how it worked?

There are two main reasons Physiotherapists use taping (aka ‘strapping’).

1) Prevention – to decrease injury risk to a joint that is at high risk of injury in a particular sport or

2) Recovery – to decrease pain and assist with rehabilitation for an injury

Tapes come in many different types – narrow, wide, rigid, stretchy. The particular tape chosen for application will depend on the body part being taped, the overall size of the person being taped, and the intended role of the tape. The common denomination of all of these tapes is an adhesive backing, which sticks directly onto the skin.

When taping is used to assist with injury recovery, it may be used to:

  • immobilise a joint
  • take load off muscles, or enhance their function
  • prompt better posture or positioning
  • train or re-train appropriate movement

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the use of tape is with examples of the common usages:

Ankle strapping – This is possibly the most common use of tape in sport. Rigid tape, generally 5 cm wide, is used around the ankle to decrease the ability of the ankle to move side to side. This is the direction of movement that can lead to ankle sprains, if not controlled. This taping is used for people recovering from an ankle sprain to protect the damaged ligaments. It can also be used to prevent the chance of ankle injury occurring, in sports with a high risk of ankle injury, such as football. In the early phase of an acute injury, the tape also provides compression, which can decrease inflammation and speed recovery.

Thoracic/Postural taping – sometimes a big cross of tape is placed on the mid back area, from the tips of the shoulders, crossing in the centre of the back. This is designed to gently pull the shoulders back and down, to improve the posture of someone who tends to slump a lot. This is common in computer workers. This can be done in rigid tape, which is more effective but restrictive in other ways, or elastic tape, which allows movement into the slumped position, but pulls a bit to prompt return to a better position.

Knee taping – The most common taping around the knee is to control the movement of the patella (kneecap). Pain from poor patella alignment can be caused for a number of reasons, including type of sport, technique, and bone structure. Rigid tape is placed over the top of the patella and pulled towards the inside of the knee. This is common in netballers.

Lower back – Pain in the back caused by a disc issue is common, and is exacerbated by sitting, forwards bending and lifting. Taping over the lumber spine region can be done to prevent this movement, therefore helping to settle the pain. The support of the tape also helps the settle the muscle spasm that is generally associated with low back pain. This is more commonly used in the acute phase of pain, i.e. at the start, or when it flares up.

Tape can be extremely useful in unloading and protecting the body, and is often more effective than using braces. There can be drawbacks though. Occasionally people are allergic to the adhesive glues used on the tape, and skin can become itchy or irritated. It can also be challenging to put on, and often people require assistance for this. Finally, if taping is done over an area that contains hair…let’s just say it can be quite uncomfortable to remove! Best to shave first, especially you rugby players!