A crash course in athletic-taping for coaches, student trainers, athletes and parents!
Here are some of the more popular methods we’ve used to help with taping for sports. Please understand that if you’re taping an athlete, they should probably be getting treatment for their injury. If they are currently getting treatment and it’s not changing anything, consider a second opinion, or ask your therapist if there is someone they’d recommend collaborating with, perhaps in a different but related profession. In our clinic, if we’re not making progress within a couple sessions, we refer within-clinic to other disciplines so that we can broaden the scope of assessment and treatment being applied to the problem, or we refer outside the clinic to the family physician or sport med doctor, etc.
A word on evaluating your tape jobs and safe return to play:
For all the methods below, try to perform a test of movement or function before and after the tape job to evaluate if it is having a benefit (for example, assess a certain position for pain rated 0-10, range of motion, functional ability such as a pushup or sport-specific movement).
Upper body testing example: start by testing the active range of motion of the affected joint/limb – ask the athlete to reach up overhead, across the body, in behind the back and simulate sport-specific movements or the movements that typically reproduce the pain. Gradually work up into strength tests, faster movements, and explosive movements such as a plyo-pushup, or a full-speed throw or catch for example.
Lower body testing example: start with active range of motion and simple bodyweight exercises such as a 2 leg squat or small 2-foot hop (like skipping); progress into single-leg squats and single-leg hops; progress into max vertical jumps from 2 legs; jump on 2 and stick a landing on 1, and lateral hop and stick landing patterns, then into jogging, acceleration, deceleration and cutting or other change of direction movements.
If an athlete can’t perform these without significant pain prior to taping, it’s unlikely that taping will enable a safe return to play. If an athlete has near full range of motion, near full strength, and pain level less than 2/10 (0 is no pain 10 is getting hit with a hammer) with an activity it is likely they will be able to play. Diminishing range of motion or strength tends to be the first sign it’s time to come out. Another common rule of thumb is that function should be within 10% of the other limb – so for example if you measure three single-leg broad jumps, the total distance that an athlete can travel on the left leg should be within 90% of the right.
Last but not least remember your job is not to be the sole person responsible for making return-to-sport decisions. If you feel in any way uncertain, get help from the professionals around you!
Be prepared to disappoint some people – athletes, coaches, parents. But the most important thing is to DO NO HARM. Ultimately, people get that. And if they don’t, look for an administrator, colleague or medical professional who can back you up.
Shoulder/rotator cuff taping with kinesio tape
This is a simple but effective method of taping for the shoulder/rotator cuff. Brands of tape we recommend are kinesio tape (the original product), k-tape, or rock-tape.
Finger taping with zinc-oxide athletic tape
Complete method of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) finger (PIP Joint) taping. This is commonly performed by the athlete so as not to require time from the coach or training staff.
MCP joint taping (how to tape the joint at the base of the finger)
If you bend the entire finger back, an MCP joint sprain can occur and become a lasting problem. Protecting it with this tape job will help you to heal and prevent further injury. It can limit your ‘feel’ in setting a bit, but you’ll get used to it after a few minutes.
Thumb taping (real-world example with a fresh thumb sprain)
In response to coaches and athletes who have asked about how to tape a thumb, here is how I do it. The video is raw and unedited but covers a few key points to help novice tapers learn how to tape and what to look for.
Thumb for sports that require wrist mobility (using tuf-skin and a couple extra tips)
This technique is loved by athletes who have a thumb sprain in a wide range of sports. The important thing is we have a good way of taping with the anchors within the hand so that the wrist is free to move.
DIY Thumb taping (for preventing reinjury)
Complete method of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) thumb (MCP Joint) taping. This is commonly performed by the athlete so as not to require time from the coach or training staff. It’s very common athletes will re-injury thumbs for a few months if they don’t protect it, and also very common that they won’t have someone around to tape them all the time – so make them responsible for themselves!
Low back pain kinesio tape (simple and effective)
This simple tape job can be used to help decrease low back pain. In our opinion it works mainly by aiding position sense and providing a non-painful stimulus in the region, which may help the tight grumpy back to calm down a bit. But importantly, if range of motion is limited to start with, we might not expect a successful return to sport.
ACL/knee instability assessment and proprioceptive kinesio tape
(Taping starts at 4:40). ACL injury can leave people feeling consistently or intermittently unstable. In this video we look at a few clinical and field tests as well as introduce a k-taping method that many athletes really find helpful to give the knee a sense of stability in spite of a torn ACL.
Taping for jumper’s knee / patellofemoral pain (timelapse)
This is a time-lapse video of taping technique for typical patellofemoral pain, jumper’s knee, etc. In other words non-traumatic, gradual onset knee pain. This type of pain often has to do with weakness in the glutes, sometimes hip flexibility and low back irritability, so the tape job is just to help decrease the pressure on the knee to help the comfort of activity, but it’s not the solution to the problem.
Simplest tape job that works for patellofemoral pain, jumper’s knee, Osgoode-Schlatter’s syndrome, etc.
This tape job using Kinesio tape helps to temporarily reduce patellofemoral pain and jumpers knee or runners knee symptoms. Useful for athletes in basketball, volleyball, ultimate, or any jumping or running sport. You can keep it on for 3-5 days if the tape is in good condition.
Another simple tape job for patellofemoral pain, jumper’s knee, Osgoode-Schlatter’s syndrome etc.
This is an alternate method for taping to temporarily reduce patellofemoral pain, runners knee or jumpers knee. This method is sometimes done using cover roll and leukotape for a more aggressive technique.
Taping for shin splints – part 1 (using k-tape)
This video goes over a shin splints taping method using stretch tape (K-tape, Kinesio tape, rock tape for example). Note there are many other methods available online; ideally, the best method should be chosen given the client’s response to the technique. Also, note that sometimes a stabilization tape job may be more effective. Lastly, this is a condition that should be treated with more than just taping.
Taping for shin splints (part 2): flat arch support/anti-pronation/low-dye tape job variation
Shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome is often occurring because of a combination of increased loading and poor recovery, along with “flat arches” which can be influenced by a number of factors: low back irritability, hip anatomy such as femoral anteversion, glute weakness, and lack of hip or knee external rotation, as well as local joint mobility issues at the ankle/midfoot and local muscular weakness or strains to name a few.
Taping for shin splints – (part 3): try different stuff!
Medial/posterior and anterior shin pain can occur for a wide range of reasons. You’ll find an equally wide range of taping methods if you search on youtube. Feel free to problem solve but also recognize that this is not likely to address the problem. So yes absolutely search and try different methods. But also consider sending them in for a thorough assessment and treatment approach.
Arch/medial ankle pain assessment and a simple tape job for arch support
(Taping starts at 3:00). In this video we wanted to show a few things that might come into assessing an ankle injury for return to sport. This is a case of medial ankle pain with an acute mechanism of injury. We are using zinc oxide athletic tape with a modified low dye tape job. But this tape job is useful to support the arch for many types of medial ankle pain including tibialis posterior strain, tibialis posterior syndrome, shin splints, medial ankle sprain, spring ligament injury, and other knee and hip pains that may benefit from improved supination of the foot (a stronger arch).
Anti-pronation tape job for flat-feet, shin splints, plantar fasciitis and medial ankle injuries
How to tape a medial ankle sprain and arch support. This complex tape job incorporates recent research. Wherever possible consult a professional. Medial ankle injuries or injuries of the longitudinal arch are potentially serious and should always be assessed by a professional prior to returning to play.
Ankle sprain mini-assessment and anti-swelling demo with k-tape and compression flossing
In this video, we do a little bit of ankle assessment on the left side and determine there is a minor tendon strain. On the right ankle, we apply a general taping technique appropriate for acute ankle sprains as well as go over some recommendations for compression flossing that can often be very helpful to reduce swelling and improve mobility in the days following an ankle sprain.
Ankle taping – simple version
This goes over a simple version of ankle stabilization taping using prowrap (prewrap) to improve tape application comfort. Note there are a wide range of methods and in many situations a more robust version of taping may be needed.
Ankle taping – full version including heel and lace pads
The taping method below is appropriate for a more thorough tape job and incorporates the full range of products we use with varsity and pro athletes to maximize comfort and minimize irritation for the skin.
Achilles tendon taping – tensoplast anchored in the upper calf.
This tape job goes over achilles tendon taping using tensoplast and an upper calf anchor; this particular tape job offers very rigid support; actual taping should consider the sport/activity, level of support needed and so tension may vary…
Achilles tendon support – anchor in lower calf; lightplast variation.
This is a method of taping to support a painful Achilles tendon in the event that an athlete meets return to play criteria but has some pain, for example with running or jumping.
This video can be contrasted with our other video using slightly different methods and tensoplast.
Big toe (1/2) assessment prior to taping for turf toe/sprains
In this video we assess the big toe and go over how to differentiate muscle from joint related pain; muscle is less likely to benefit from stabilization taping with zinc oxide athletic tape.
Big toe (2/2) taping after assessment for turf toe/sprains
This video goes over some practical advice on how to tape the big toe for sport and the importance of assessing the tape job after it is applied. We look at how to bias the tape job towards the athlete’s position of comfort. We discuss variations of how this may be applied depending on the positions that aggravate each unique individual. We are using tuf-skin and zinc-oxide athletic tape.
How to tape the big toe (MTP joint)
Taping for an inflamed or sprained big toe, to help improve activity tolerance.
Give thanks, give feedback, and give yourself a pat on the back!
First, give the pat on the back. You deserve it. This type of work is often a bit thankless. When I first worked as a trainer, I was warned that if anyone would be forgotten when the bus pulls away, or when the hotel rooms get booked, it would be me. Watch out for yourself and watch out for your athletes.
Please leave a comment if there’s something you’d like to know or a tape job you’d like us to comment on or add to the list.