Anatomy in Action: Why You Should Tape Your Ankles



by: Dr. Matt Driscoll (Driscoll Chiropractic)

“You’re taping my ankles for my back pain??” This type of question is common coming from our athletes as I am wrapping a piece of tape around each of their ankles. Intuitively I understand the confusion, however from a neurological perspective this is an extremely important component of fixing the athlete’s injury.

Let me explain. When an athlete engages in activity, whether cutting on the soccer field, sprinting on a track, riding a bike or any other activity, there is a tremendous amount of force translated into the body. If the body is performing optimally, this force is absorbed by the muscular system with proper speed, symmetry, and sequence. In order for the motor cortex to engage the muscular system properly the brain must receive adequate information about force entering the body. If the information reaching the brain is not accurate and specific there will be a decreased ability for the brain to engage the muscular system optimally.

Part of the treatment protocol in the clinic involves adding a piece of athletic tape around the narrowest part of the ankle. The purpose is to offer proprioceptive stimulation from the ankle to the brain. When injury occurs the brain perceives the presence of injury and responds by down regulating motor reflexes and increasing resting muscle tone around the injury. This compensation pattern, while meant to protect the injury, alters the ability of the muscular system to optimally perform and support the body.

The ankle plays an important part in assuring accurate information is reaching the brain. When force enters from the ground it is translated through the ankle. The ankle houses an enormous amount of neurological receptors which serve to decipher the forces coming into the body. The receptors then communicate this information to the brain to engage a response. The more accurately the ankle receptors can perceive the forces coming in the more accurately the motor cortex can respond, and the more accurately the force can be absorbed. When there is a breakdown in this motor reflex loop force is not absorbed properly and the propensity towards injury increases.

This is where the tape comes in. If the ligamentous structure supporting the ankle has become stretched or developed laxity due to injury or activity, the receptors within the ankle are not able to perceive as accurately what forces enter the body. This decreases the accuracy of information going to the brain which causes a decreased ability for the motor cortex to respond with a strong motor response. A narrow piece of tape works to support the ankle complex as well as increase the accuracy of receptors. This will lead to an increase in accuracy and speed of the motor reflex helping the muscular system to fire faster and stronger.

I would recommend wearing the tape for a six week period whenever weight bearing. Following this time period it should only be worn during athletic activity. This is helpful for both injury recovery and injury prevention. By speeding up the motor reflex loop, an athlete is absorbing force more efficiently, preventing injury, and increasing performance.