Strapping and taping are important for athletes in injury prevention but chartered physiotherapists often dislike their usage long term.  This weeks post outlines the benefits but also the potential hazards of utilising these methods in injury management and prevention.

Strapping and taping can be extremely beneficial in facilitating an early return to sporting activity following an injury.  Very often athletes return to their sports earlier than would otherwise be possible with appropriate strapping and taping.  However there is an inherent risk in “strapping up and playing on!”  Injured tissues need time to heal and depriving injuries of sufficient healing time should not be encouraged.  The decision to strap or tape injured joints should be made in conjunction with your chartered physiotherapist, who should make the decision based on the stage of your recovery.  It shouldn’t be used as an alternative to allowing sufficient healing time.

One of the benefits of strapping or taping is that it improves players’ confidence in their ability to return to sport following injury.  Very often the psychological consequences of a significant injury, such as a bad ankle sprain, will make players extremely reluctant to return to their sports as soon as may be possible.  This results in a delay in resumption of sporting activity which is not desirable from the point of view of the athlete, the coaches or the team.  Taping or strapping can be successfully utilised in such instances to facilitate a return to competition with the athlete’s full confidence.  Of course the potential pitfall of this approach is that the athlete becomes over confident and re-injures.  Again this decision needs to be made in the context of the personality of the athlete, the nature of the sport, the chronicity of the injury and the relative importance of the particular competition in the context of the whole season.

Since chartered physiotherapists are involved with rehabilitation, they worry when they see strapping or taping used as an alternative to appropriate rehabilitation following injury.  Continuously strapping or taping up an ankle or knee doesn’t do athletes any favours in the long term.  On the contrary, providing an external support to a joint over a prolonged period of time effectively weakens that joint since muscles and other soft tissues become use to the external support and don’t work as hard themselves.  This weakness then becomes a major factor in why the injury is failing to settle in the first place.

Taping and strapping have their uses but shouldn’t be used indefinitely and aren’t a substitute for appropriate injury rehabilitation.