A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

What’s the science behind taping and bracing?

Man holding his foot with ankle tape getting ready to workout

Sports injuries can affect the body’s balance system. Taping and bracing help by providing sensory feedback so the mind understands how the body is moving.

Athletes, coaches and athletic trainers are familiar with the routine of ankle taping and bracing.

“In college, many football and basketball athletes were taped or braced every single day,” said Jennifer Sobotta, a Marshfield Clinic athletic trainer.

For prep sports, high school athletes are typically only taped or braced after an injury or for chronic ankle issues.

Is it science?

Taping and bracing affect the body’s balance system.

Your body keeps its balance using your eyes, inner ear and nerves.

Nerves make up the proprioceptive system, which helps the mind sense where body parts are located in space and motion.

“A joint injury throws off the proprioceptive system,” Sobotta said. “Your mind can’t tell where your foot or ankle is in motion and this can lead to another injury or worsen a current injury.”

Taping and bracing provide sensory feedback so the mind understands how the body is moving.

Learn more about the process of ankle taping in this video. These methods also can be used to prevent injuries, if athletic budgets allow.

What’s the difference between taping and bracing?

“Taping and bracing are designed to do the same thing, but in different ways,” she said.

Typically, taping is good go-to for athletes who don’t sustain frequent ankle injuries. If the athlete is recovering from an injury, an athletic trainer may recommend a strengthening program to include until the injured area heals.

Taping does have some downfalls:

  • Human error can cause it to be less effective.
  • Feel and fit may be different day-to-day.
  • Taping offers less support than bracing.

Bracing provides more support to an injury and is the better choice for an athlete who chronically sprains his ankle.

“There’s no magic indicator for when a person should find a brace instead of using tape,” Sobotta said. “If you’re not reacting to the tape and still getting injured, it’s time to find a brace.”

Buying tapes and braces

Typically, a team’s athletic trainer provides tape.

Coaches and athletes can buy their own tape, but it may be expensive and lower quality. Sobotta recommends brands like Mueller, Johnson & Johnson and Cramer.

“We send sports medicine kits with teams for away games, too, and tape is included,” Sobotta said.

If the time comes to buy a brace, an athletic trainer can recommend the best type for an athlete’s injury history and concerns.

“I most often recommend lace-up braces,” Sobotta said. “They follow the same pattern as taping, but fit every time.”

Hinged braces are firmer and offer more support. They are better for athletes who sustain frequent sprains and less recommended for athletes who only need prevention or short-term support.

Braces are fitted based on shoe size.

See a specialist

Marshfield Clinic athletic training supports area athletes. Athletic trainers specialize in prevention, evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of athletic injuries.

Find an athletic trainer.

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