Taping Ankles Back to Health

Rehabilitation programs have proven successful in helping people regain stability after an ankle sprain. A hallmark of ankle rehabilitation has been the use of proprioception exercises. Proprioception refers to the awareness of positioning and balance that is sort of like a sixth sense. Proprioception exercises are designed to help patients become aware of joint alignment and positioning. By improving proprioception, the joint’s stability improves.

One type of proprioception exercise involves using a disk platform with a rounded undersurface–sort of like a flying saucer. Patients do special exercises while balancing on the disk. The exercises are designed to work the nerve receptors in and around the injured ankle, leading to improved ankle stability.

In this study, the researchers tested two groups of people with ankle instability. Both groups did exercises on the disk. However, one group also had two small strips of tape on their lower leg, from the outside edge of the foot to midway up the calf. Exercises were done for 10 minutes, five days a week. After 10 weeks, researchers measured ankle instability of the two test groups and a group of people with no ankle problems.

The group wearing tape showed dramatically better stability within four weeks. By six weeks, they were nearly as stable as the healthy group. Remarkably, their recovery rate was about two weeks faster than the group who did exercises without wearing the tape.

That may sound wacky, but there is a scientific reason behind the tape. The sural nerve supplies the sensation to the skin under the tape. Scientists think that the tape pulls on the skin, which stimulates the nerve. The stimulated nerve then keeps the surrounding muscles and ligaments alert to the position of the ankle joint.

Low-tech and unglamorous though it is, the tape definitely appeared to work in this study. This is good news for patients with ankle sprains who need to get back to their regular activities quickly.