It’s easy to tweak your ankle! They take almost your entire body weight when you’re moving, and if they’re even slightly misaligned when they land, you could end up twisting or spraining one.
You can strengthen your ankles with exercises, but if you have naturally weak ankles, you’ll benefit from knowing how to tape an ankle for support and stability.
Here’s all you need to know about taping your ankles from the right materials to use, how to prepare, and how to actually tape it effectively.
Should You Wrap a Sprained Ankle?
Wrapping an injured ankle can help. Light compression may help to keep the swelling to a minimum, and using tape can help to counteract any instability the ankle may have as a result of the injury.
You can wrap or tape your ankle almost immediately after an injury and keep wrapping it up to several weeks after the injury. Removing the wrapping or tape overnight is a good idea to allow your feet some space to breathe and move unrestricted unless you’re an active sleeper who could tweak the joint during the night.
However, it’s best to assess this on a case-by-case basis. If you’re taping or wrapping your ankle, note how it feels and if it helps improve stability and reduce pain. If your ankle feels more painful or it affects your range of motion too much, you may have to look for other options.
When Should You Not Tape an Ankle?
In some cases, taping may not help, and you should visit your doctor for a more detailed diagnosis. The most important of these cases is if you heard or felt a “popping” sound or feeling when you injured your ankle. This could be a bigger injury than you realize.
If there’s significant instability in the ankle joint to the point where you can’t bear weight on the foot, there could be a worse injury that needs medical attention. We advise seeing your doctor rather than taping your ankle yourself.
If you’ve had ankle pain for some time with an unclear cause, you shouldn’t be using tape to ease the pain. It’s tempting to push through the pain and tape the ankle tightly to reduce movement that may cause pain, but there’s a chance you’ll cause worse damage.
It’s also important to know that with tape, there is a chance of an allergic skin reaction, especially if you’ve never used it before. You may be better off using a soft brace if you have sensitive skin.
Don’t tape over open wounds. This could cause infection due to the sticky backing of the tape. Lastly, if the swelling hasn’t reduced within a day or two of your injury, you may want to unwrap it and visit a doctor instead.
Is It Better to Tape or Brace a Sprained Ankle?
Both are effective measures for helping the ankle to heal, as well as preventing future injuries. Ultimately, it depends on your own preference and the severity of your injury.
An ankle brace may be the better choice for ankle injuries with severe instability—grade III ankle sprains or worse. It offers much more robust support, but it’s also limiting and can be difficult to fit into a shoe.
If your injury presents mild to moderate instability in the joint, taping should be perfectly fine and more comfortable.
For injuries that require a brace upfront, you can also move from the brace to taping after a few weeks as the ankle gains more stability.
Benefits of Taping a Sprained Ankle
Taping a sprained ankle offers many benefits. Some of them are well backed up by research, while others are simply reported by people who have used taping to help their own ankle injuries heal faster.
- Provides subtle support to the joint at rest and during movement
- May help to prevent the recurrence of ankle injuries by keeping it in position
- Helps to reduce swelling, especially if applied soon after injury
- Compression and lifting of skin helps to encourage better blood flow
- Can relieve pain associated with swelling
- May improve proprioception
It’s important to note that these benefits are only experienced when the ankle is taped correctly. If the taping is too tight, you could experience worse pain, increased swelling, and a high level of discomfort.
On the other hand, if it’s not taped tightly enough, you won’t get the benefits of the compression or stability. Tape it just right, and you’ll benefit.
Preparation for Taping
Preparing properly to tape your ankle might sound strange, but your taping may not be as effective if you aren’t prepared. Here’s how to prepare yourself for taping your ankle.
Gather Materials Needed
You don’t want a piece of tape hanging off and then have to search for scissors to cut it with.
Gather everything you need—water, possibly in a bucket, to clean the feet, a towel, the tape you’ve chosen to use, a pair of scissors, and anything else you think you may need.
Clean the Area to be Taped
Taping over dirty feet only increases the chance of bacteria growing, bad smells developing, and nasty foot problems like athlete’s foot! You want to ensure your foot is properly clean and sweat- and dirt-free before you tape it.
You can wash your feet in a bucket or basin with soap. Make sure to dry them very well afterwards—if they’re still damp when you apply the tape, they may not stick as well.
Decide If You Need Padding
This is relevant more for athletic taping. As it’s not as close to the skin as KT tape, some chafing can occur.
You can either apply a base spray on the top of your foot and at the Achilles—the two most susceptible areas to rubbing—or use a heel pad and a lace pad for the top of the foot.
Apply these before the rest of the tape. You may need to apply the tape more carefully so the pads don’t move out of position, but they can be a huge help.
How to Tape a Sprained Ankle
Learning how to tape an ankle for support could be one of the most important things you learn as an athlete. Here’s how to do it with athletic tape and KT tape. You can choose either one, depending on your preference or what you have available.
How to Apply Athletic Tape
Athletic tape is more rigid than KT tape, but it does a good job of providing stability. Here’s how to tape your ankle with athletic tape:
- If you have prewrap, apply it now. We highly recommend using it, as it stops the tape from sticking directly to the skin, which can be painful to remove later. Now is also the time to apply any padding.
- Place an anchor strip about two inches above the ankle bones.
- Start your next piece directly on this anchor strip, on the inside of the leg. Run it down, over the ankle bones, under the heel, and up over the outer ankle bone to meet the anchor trip again. No need to stretch the tape!
- Place another strip in the same position, just slightly in front of the original strip. If you feel the need, you can add a third strip.
- For your next strip, you’ll start it the same way as the above “stirrups”. Once it’s gone underneath the heel, instead of running it up the ankle, you’ll cross it over the top of the foot and attach it to your anchor strip on the same side that it started.
- Do the same on the opposite side of the foot.
- For the last two, you’ll start in the same position, run it immediately across the front of the leg, round behind the heel, cupping it underneath the heel bone, and following the line of the previous strip. Check out the video for visuals!
How to Apply Kinesio Tape
Kinesio or KT tape may provide a slight bit more support thanks to its tight cling to the skin. It also pulls on the skin slightly, allowing better blood flow and promoting faster healing.
There are numerous ways to tape with KT tape, but here’s the one we recommend.
- You’ll need three full strips of KT tape
- Sit down and place your heel on a flat surface.
- Flex your ankle upwards so your toes are facing the ceiling.
- Break the backing of one strip of KT tape about 2 inches from the end.
- Apply this anchor without stretching on the outside of the heel, with the rest of the strip facing downwards—able to run underneath the foot.
- With a moderate stretch, run the rest of the strip underneath the foot and up over the opposite ankle bone.
- The last 2 inches should have no stretch, applied just above your inner ankle.
- Repeat this process with a second strip, anchoring on the inside of the foot and running it up over the outer ankle bone.
- Achor the third strip on the outside of the heel bone.
- Apply a moderate stretch and run it around the back of the heel, underneath the heel bone, and then back over the outer ankle bone with a heavier stretch.
- Without stretching, lay the last 2 inches down above your ankle bone.
- Don’t forget to rub each strip vigorously to ensure the best adhesion.