"The use of tape in sports has become increasingly popular over the last few years; from its use in school teams all the way through to professional athletes," writes Optimus Sports Therapist Sophie Soleman- Richmond, Melbourne Victoria.
Its popularity has soared because of its well-known benefits and the advantages certain taping applications can provide to people participating in sports with injuries. It is widely known that tape, if applied appropriately, can reduce pain and aid recovery from injury, allowing athletes to return to sport faster than the healing process would generally allow without the structural support of taping.
There has been a shift recently, to athletes using tape excessively for longer periods of time - sometimes even right through an entire season and we have to question why. Is it because tape is now thought to be cool? Do athletes feel their bodies can’t cope with the demands of sport without it? Do they think these incredibly thin layers of tape are stronger than their own muscles and bones? Or is there just a huge misconception surrounding the actual intended use and benefits of tape?
The body is capable of handling all the stresses of sport and the demands of our sporting activities if trained to do so but cannot pre-empt something as variable as the way a ball might awkwardly bounce or the way the dirt might dip on a football oval creating a little ditch or another player landing on your ankle etc. This is when injury can occur and tape can become a useful recovery tool. However, what people seem to be forgetting in recent times is that tape is a temporary aid. It is designed to be used as one tool of many in the rehabilitation process, as opposed to a long-term or permanent prevention strategy.
Tape is generally used by athletes to protect injured sites against further injury and also to decrease pain. The goals of taping include restricting unwanted motion of injured joints and providing extrinsic stability, compressing soft tissue to decrease swelling, enhancing proprioceptive feedback and supporting the structures involved while the healing process is underway. It is largely effective at the injury management level and in the prevention of further injury.
However, once the rehabilitation process is complete, and the body has returned to its pre-injury status, there should be no further need to tape. The human body is a great machine. It is much stronger than any piece of tape you can find. Yet is becoming clear that athletes have an unwarranted tendency to develop psychological dependence on the external support, whereby one ankle sprain will lead to the continued use of tape for the duration of the remaining season or even their entire sporting career, instead of using it purely as an injury management tool.
The fact is, that using tape when not necessary (eg after a ligament is structurally healed) can lead to prolonged weakness of the structure and potentially increase likelihood of injury re-occurrence. With the tape 'doing the work of the ligament', for example, the ligament may not get loaded appropriately to build tensile strength or stimulated adequately to sharpen proprioceptive responses. This ligament is therefore never optimallly rehabilitated.
The focus needs to be turned to rehabilitating the injured area and fixing the problem, using suitable exercises to make the joint strong and stable again rather than using the tape to mask the issue. In majority of cases, if there is no injury, there is no need to tape. In fact, after a short period of time (less than 15 minutes of motion), the rigidity exerted due to taping a joint gradually decreases rendering it ineffective for most purposes. However, athletes will continue turning up to their training sessions and games early and waiting in the “Players to be taped” line.
We need to shift the focus of masking the issue and becoming constantly dependent on tape to making sure athletes bodies are rehabilitated efficiently with appropriate exercises, and making sure they are capable of doing what is required in the particular sport they are involved in.
This would mean athletes would be able to utilize their time more effectively, leaving more time for a good warm-up and to activate their muscles prior to training or competing. Making sure their bodies are ready for what they are about to be put through would allow for a much more effective injury prevention process.
Sophie Soleman isa Sports Therapist working at Optimus Health Group in Richmond. If you have an ongoing injury that requires taping, come in and talk to Sophie or one of the Optimus Team about a rehabilitation program.