Athletic Tape

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Varsity Athlete's foot with an ankle tape job for support hanging off a table in a medical clinic

Athletic tape comes in two categories. There are elastic and non elastic tapes, both of which have adhesive backings to help them to adhere directly to your skin or to other materials like pre wrap. You apply both tapes either directly to the skin or over pre-wrap with the aim of maintaining a stable relative position of bones and muscles, especially during sports activity. There are also other, less common applications of athletic tape, which we will describe below.

Comparison With Orthopedic Bracing

If the objective of “maintaining a stable relative position of bones and muscles” sounds similar to the reason for wearing an orthopedic brace, this is no coincidence. In many ways, athletic taping is a substitute for wearing an orthopedic brace.

However, athletic tape has the advantage of being lower profile than most or all orthopedic braces. You can therefore easily wear it inside athletic shoes or under clothing. If you apply it with the necessary expertise, a tape job will pose less interference with joint range of motion while providing the necessary joint support to prevent or treat an injury.

Another advantage that is sometimes cited for athletic tape is its greater ability to enhance the athlete’s sense of proprioception. Broadly, this term refers to the ability to instinctively sense unusual or dangerous positions of joints and other body parts, and to correct them in time to avoid injury.

Athletic tape does require some expertise for its proper application while orthopedic braces are generally much easier to apply. In addition, you can remove an orthopedic brace at the end of the day and put back on the next day with no loss of performance. That is not possible with an athletic tape job, which has to be re-applied from scratch the next time support is needed. As a result, orthopedic braces represent a more cost effective solution over the long term.

Types Of Athletic Tape

Non Elastic tape

The most common color of non elastic athletic tape is white and it is usually sold in widths of ½ inch,1 inch, 1½  inches, 2 inches and 3 inches. The most common lengths are 10 and 15 yards.

Non elastic athletic tape is capable of providing higher levels of support than elastic tape. However, because it does not possess elastic properties, it can be difficult to get non-elastic tape to closely conform to highly contoured areas of the body.

Non elastic athletic tapes are usually made from cotton and/or polyester and possess a zinc oxide adhesive mass backing. There is a special sub category of these tapes commonly known as rigid athletic tapes. They use a rayon covering for extra tensile strength and also use stronger adhesive mass backing in order to provide higher levels of support to joints and muscles.

Elastic Tape

Elastic tape is sometimes alternatively referred to as stretch tape and comes in both lightweight and heavyweight designs. The standard widths are 1,2,3, and 4 inches and the standard length is 5 yards. The most common colors are white and tan.

The elasticity of this tape allows you to apply it to highly contoured body areas with relatively little loss of support when compared to a non elastic athletic tape.

Construction of elastic tape is from cotton and, like non adhesive tape, it has an adhesive backing.

The difference between the lightweight and heavyweight designs of elastic tape lies in their tensile strength and level of support. Heavyweight designs are generally thicker and provide higher levels of tensile strength and support. In fact, many heavyweight designs require the use of special taping scissors to cut the tape to the size you need.

What Makes A Good Athletic Tape?

Probably the primary consideration in evaluating the quality of an athletic tape is the number of longitudinal and vertical fibers per inch in the backing of the tape. The higher quality tapes have 85 or more longitudinal fibers and 65 or more vertical fibers per square inch. Lower quality tapes tend to have 65 or fewer longitudinal fibers and 45 or fewer vertical fibers.

Another important factor is the amount and durability of its adhesive backing. This directly affects the ability of the athletic tape to continue providing the necessary degree of joint stabilization and support through the challenging conditions it may encounter on the playing field.

As a result, the adhesive has to be capable of withstanding moisture and perspiration without losing its support. It also has to be able to withstand the vigorous (and sometimes even violent or powerful) body movements of the athlete during the game or training session. At the end of the session, the athletic tape also has to be capable of easy and relatively pain free removal.

Roll tension is a third important factor that contributes to the quality of an athletic tape. This refers to how the tape comes off the roll. It should be capable of removal with a fluid and easy tension.

Experienced trainers can listen to the sound of the tape as they remove it from the roll and judge the uniformity of roll tension from the sound. If the frequency fluctuates as the tape comes off the roll, that is generally an indication of non-uniform roll tension.

Applications Of Athletic Tape

You can apply athletic tape to various parts of the body to:

  • Provide joint support and restrict range of motion in order to prevent injuries (especially during athletic activity). This includes both traumatic (e.g. knee sprains) as well as overuse (e.g. tennis elbow) injuries;
  • Provide joint support and reduce range of motion as a component of the treatment and rehabilitation of pre-existing injuries;
  • Secure elastic wraps during the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries
  • Attach protective padding to the body to cushion sensitive body areas against shocks due to external blows;
  • Fix wound dressings to the body.

Usage Precautions

For best results, we suggest following these precautions when using athletic tape:

  • Make sure the skin of the patient is clean and dry before application. There should be no body oils or lotions present, as these may compromise the effectiveness of the adhesive;
  • Remove any body hair in the region to which you intend to apply the tape;
  • When applying a non elastic tape,position the joint in the range of motion in which you plan to stabilize it. This does not apply when using elastic tape because the elastic nature of the tape will allow the position of the joint to vary.

Suggested Athletic Tape Products


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