It's something you don't think about much as a phan…unless you have primordial memories as a former amateur player…
But pro players have to tape their ankles before every practice and game.
The good news in the pros— there is a staff of trainers to do the job.
But when you were a third-string special teams player like I was in high school, and subsequently an unsung blocking back at the college club level, you had to learn to tape yourself.
In this high-tech era, athletic trainers with master's degrees use ultrasound therapy and electrical stimulation to help athletes recover from injuries. Knee and ankle braces offer alternatives to tape. Some question whether taping really works. Yet tape remains a basic tool in efforts to prevent injuries and buttress damaged parts.
Learning how to tape ankles for football players is important for preventing further ankle injuries. Throughout the course of a season football players get their ankles stepped on or lose their footing, and the result is most often a twisted ankle. Whether it is in practice or in a game, playing football on a bad ankle is very painful, and taping the ankle is the easiest and quickest way to keep players on the football field.
If I wasn't taped, I'd feel like something wasn't right. I liked everything real tight and firm," says former Ravens nose tackle Kelly Gregg, whose ankles, wrists and thumbs were taped for practices and games.
Former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Hollis Thomas got his ankles taped, got taped over his shoes (spatting), taped his wrists, sometimes taped damaged fingers together and wore an arm brace anchored with tape. "I probably used the most tape of anybody you've ever seen," he says.
Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Mueller Sports Medicine and Cramer Products market athletic tape. The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association estimates annual "institutional" sales of athletic tape to pro teams, colleges and high schools at $75 million, plus another $10 million in retail sales to weekend athletes. Major colleges and NFL teams spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on tape. For a high school, spending $1,000-$2,000 on tape might consume half its annual budget for athletic training supplies.
Athletic tape isn't applied in one continuous wrap, like duct taping a punctured garden hose. Individual strips are precisely arranged. Each strip is smoothed because wrinkles mean blisters.
White cotton tape — with adhesive that includes zinc oxide for skin protection — remains the staple. But there are stretch tapes, heavy tapes, cohesive tapes that stick only to themselves and flesh-toned tapes for athletes such as gymnasts who might not want the tape to show. Colored tape is popular for spatting, which is used for ankle support, to keep shoes from coming off and as a football fashion statement.
Fred Zamberletti, former head athletic trainer of the Minnesota Vikings and now the NFL team's senior consultant-medical services, says he's not "fully convinced taping does that much good" once an athlete starts sweating, moving and loosening the tape.
But Zamberletti says "no pro team wants to be involved in a study in which nobody gets taped. … What if all of a sudden you start getting a rash of injuries?"
He says for players, taping goes beyond just physical support. "It's part of the ritual of getting ready to play the game," he says.
Taping an ankle that's already been injured in a game is an art unto itself.
Steps to taping an injured ankle:
- Have the player lay on an athletic table or bench with the injured ankle hanging off the end of the bench or table. Remember to have the player take their sock off. The ankle needs to be off the end of the table or bench because it makes taping the ankle easier.
- Using a pre-wrap, start wrapping above the ankle joint about three to five inches. Wrap down to the bottom of the leg, and go in a diagonal direction over the top of the foot. Wrap around the foot until all the skin is covered with pre-wrap. There is no need to wrap the entire ankle more than two or three times with pre-wrap. The purpose of the pre-wrap is to keep the tape from sticking to the player’s skin.
- Have the player position their foot so that it is perpendicular to the leg. Attach a piece of tape under the heel and bring the tape up over the ankle bone on the outside of their leg. Repeat this on the inside of the leg. This helps keep the ankle and leg perpendicular and will be the foundation of support for the ankle. More than one piece of tape on both sides may be required to help keep the ankle supported.
- Start at the top of the ankle and begin wrapping the tape around the ankle in the same pattern the pre-wrap was. The key is to go under the foot and come back up around the top of the ankle. This will further strengthen and support the ankle. When taping an ankle for football players it is important to remember to not make the tape too tight around the ankle. It is also important to remember to not use too much tape. Taping an ankle should allow the football player to have full range of movement and should not be used to immobilize the ankle.
- Another important thing to remember is to make the tape look good around the ankle. It may seem silly, but an athlete with a taped ankle that looks good will feel confident that they will not be risking injury to the ankle.