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Ankle Taping 101: How To Wrap A Sprained Ankle

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I sprained my ankle and trashed my lateral ligaments many years ago, and became dependent on athletic tape to function until I discovered PRP (platelet-rich plasma). I had two treatments one month apart and have been ankle wrap free until recently. 

My joints and ligaments have become beat up from a lifetime of being active and as I’ve aged, my ligaments needed a touch-up. I recently got one.

I’ve started wrapping my ankle again before a hike, bodyweight workout, or bike ride as they are healing and tightening down. Once that recovery process is done, I’ll stop taping. Read on to learn about why wrapping can help ankle injury recovery and my go-to technique.

side view of taped ankle

Does wrapping your ankle help?

Yes, the tape wrapping the ankle serves as a substitute for the damaged ligaments that generally cover and protect the ankle joint.

There are two kinds of ankle taping. The first is for when the game needs to continue regardless of acute ankle sprains. It uses the tape as a flexible cast for the joint  and is not recommended unless multi-million dollar NFL contracts are on the line. Why? Additional damage to the ankle is possible.

The second kind, and likely the reason you are reading this, is for the weekend warrior who has yet to have loose ankle ligaments fixed and has ankle pain during or after a workout. Here the goal is to provide temporary protection and compression with an elastic bandage like KT tape — also known as Kinesio tape or Kinesiology tape

How does KT Tape work?

Taping the skin to try to replicate the function of ligaments isn’t easy. Most tape doesn’t stretch the way your ligaments do. When you jump up and down, your ligaments stretch to their limit and then stop. That hard stop protects the joint, and their ability to stretch protects the ligament itself.

lateral ankle ligaments ankle taping

The most common ankle ligaments supported by ankle taping are the ones on the outside of the joint (lateral). The posterior and anterior talofibular ligaments travel horizontally and the calcaneofibular ligament travels almost vertically, which is why the tape follows the same pattern as these ligaments highlighted yellow in the image above. Think of these ligaments as pieces of tape on the outside of your ankle that attach the small outside ankle bone (fibula) to the main leg bone (tibia) and foot.

Regular cloth tape doesn’t stretch, so using it just amounts to a tape cast around the joint. On the other hand, KT Tape can be forgiving and stretchy, or tight with only a slight give.  Flexible KT tape is also easy to remove from skin, making which makes it convenient for daily use.

Ankle wrapping with tape video instructions and tips 

  • Get two strips of tape per ankle. You can buy the pre-cut 10-inch strips, like I use, or get a roll and cut the pieces yourself. 
  • It is VERY important to stretch the tape as you apply it.
  • First apply the vertical strip.  Start from the outside of your ankle and apply the tape with your ankle tilted outward. Then, pass the tape down under your heel. Bring the tape back up the inside of your ankle and tilt the ankle toward the tape on the inside. Finish by sticking it in place.
    vertical kt tape strip placement on ankle
  • Then apply the horizontal strip. Again, be sure to stretch the tape as you apply it. Apply the tape at the same level of your ankle bone that protrudes on the outside and inside (lateral and medial malleolus), wrapping the tape around as many times as it will go.
    rotating view of ankle wrapped with kt tape
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10 thoughts on “Ankle Taping 101: How To Wrap A Sprained Ankle

  1. Allison Suddard

    Will this same taping style work for this?
    I seriously sprained my ankle 2 weeks ago (VERY loud crack heard, no fractures). Surgeon thinks I’ve torn/ruptured 2 ligaments: Most likely ATF and CF. I’m going on a week long cattle roundup in 3 weeks (thanks for getting the rest of my body to the point I can go have fun again!).
    Is this still the best taping regimen for spending time in the stirrups with this level of injury until I can get in to see you?
    Many thanks,
    Allison

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Yes, this would be a good one.

  2. Francisjames Crisp

    Any suggestions for exercises to strengthen foot muscles to minimize wear/tear to ligaments/tendons? I have consistent nerve pain at night in top of foot down to, and along large toe. Any suggestions for taping for this condition? Many podiatrist at a loss as to what the problem is, much less a remedy. Thnx for the great article.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      That nerve distribution could be coming from your low back so getting that checked would be the next step.

  3. Francisjames Crisp

    Dr. C…no, the so called “nerve pain” does not originate from low back; it is intrinsic…I have had numerous tests…too many to mention. There is arthritis in the foot due to many years of tennis, cycling, ankle sprains, et al. The problem began 10 years ago when a “spine specialist” misdiagnosed my foot problem; the pain occurred immediately in the foot after an epidural. The “pain” can be manipulated to a degree but I cannot discern the cause. The typical doctor recommends steroid injections. Something REGENEXX could address? To be clear, it is NOT a “low back” issue.
    I have tried taping, tapping, acupuncture, and typical foot strengthening exercises. The real problem is finding a medical person with an open mind willing to look beyond steroids and x-rays.
    Thnx

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      The pain occurred immediately in the foot after an epidural? Can you elaborate?

  4. Francisjames Crisp

    Dr. C: I had just finished jogging November 2010; afterward had minor dorsiflexion issue in the right foot; the issue with clear up but would reoccur; visited the family Doctor Who had no clue sent me to a spine specialist who is more than glad to insist that it was my back…I tried to explain that it was not my back, as I had no issues such as sciatica or otherwise. However, I acquiesced to the doctor to do a MRI which did not really show anything, his recommendation was to do a epidural. December 27, 2010 I had an epidural which the doctor said would take care of the dorsiflexion problem. The next morning I had a burning in the top of my foot and sometime down in the large toe and digits two and three. The problem was mostly while lying down. I immediately called the doctor and spoke to the nurse who stated that the doctor may have touched a nerve. And so, one month later I had another epidural, of which the doctor said would take care of the problem. It did not.
    The rest of the story is a ten-year nightmare of never ending test; as well, an injury to my right hip by a chiropractor. Another idiot.
    I will say I have had 3 other type of exams; in 2014, two separate EMG evidence proved that there was no radiculopathy but there seems to have been an injury to the right peroneal. The doctor that performed the EMG stated that my problem may be due to a previous local trauma and to seek clinical Correlation; however I could not get him to explain exactly what a clinical correlation might be or who would perform this clinical correlation. Additionally, another doctor in 2015 performed an extensive x-ray; stating pes planus foot type w/ bony hypertrophy at 1st metatarsal & cuneiform joint region. Because he wore me down with babble talk, I consented to the typical 1/10 cc marcaine along the course of the deep peroneal nerve. Which helped for a month. The only other suggestion from the podiatrist was a change of footwear. And thirdly, early 2017, did receive a hydro-dissection w/neural fascial Prolo by a D.O. who stated there is secondary osteoarthritis in the right foot; the only recommendation was to use toe stretchers daily. As well, the neural fascial was effective for maybe one month. This particular event was also a nightmare. In conclusion, I have had many other exams through the years…not worth mentioning. I have to use 900 to 1200 mg of gabapentin for nighttime relief; otherwise doing daily activities or cycling, swimming, et al, the foot feels “normal.” My goal is to get off the gabapentin. My own research for strengthening, exercises has helped, but still is a nuisance. Most doctors have basically told me just to live with it. Unfortunately, my determination and being stubborn gets in the way of that philosophy. The bottom line is, I would like more than just a cursory flyby from a doctor who has 30 minutes to spare. Apologize for the dissertation.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      What sounds the most plausible is that the L5 nerve was injured by the epidural. The problem with an EMG is that it’s a low sensitivity test that can only detect motor nerve injury. Your injury sounds more sensory. The peroneal nerve is made up of the L4, L5, S1, and S2 spinal nerves. Hence it makes sense that treating the peroneal with neural prolo could help. Our approach would be to treat the injured L5 with platelet growth factors (platelet lysate) as well as treat the nerve where it looks like it may have developed issues in teh leg (i.e. peroneal). Nerves are one long cell with the cell body in the spinal cord. Hence a nerve injury in the L5 root can become a problem anywhere from the back to the leg to the foot.

  5. Francisjames Crisp

    The peroneal injury (in competitive cycling and tennis I did take falls on the lower leg and turned that ankle…always the right ankle.) is in the lower right leg, just below the insertion at lateral knee. I have had other tests other than EMG which also verified no radiculopathy. When I use a massage roller, a IAFM scrapper, or cupping along the anterior tibialis, I can ascertain a sporadic sensation in this area, and down to top of foot (at ankle) to the middle section of top of foot, and sometimes in large toe. When foot is relaxed (or flat on floor), there is a very slight uplift of the big toe; the tendon seems to be in very mild tension causing this. Thus, after 10 years I have a belief this is a true foot problem. I will say there is a slight structural difference in the right foot relative to the left; however there is no deformity and no ankle pain, plantar fasciitis, or aches.
    I would NOT be open to ANY L5, etc injections. I am open to addressing the anterior tibialis (muscle or peroneal), the bony structures/impinged foot nerve, etc. I have asked many doctors to at least use ultrasound to investigate these structures but told “ultrasound is a waste of time…you need an MRI or steroid injection. Yeah, right.
    Hope this clarifies Dr. C. Thnx for your suggestions. (And your blog.)

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      There is no test outside of an EMG/NCS that can identify radiculopathy (other than a physical exam or diagnostic block). I wouldn’t take you on as a patient at this time. While I’m happy to co-pilot the diagnostic bus with a patient and believe in listening to what patients report because they’re usually right, having one that is fixated on what the diagnosis MUST be is not a recipe for treatment success.

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