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How to Tape a Sprained Ankle

While we all do our best to avoid them, injuries happen on the trails, and it is important to be prepared and know how to treat them to ensure that the injured person can safely reach the bottom of the mountain. An absolutely essential item that every hiker should keep in their packs is a roll of standard sports tape - it can be used to temporarily treat a number of common ligament and tendon injuries. This is not to be confused with KT-Tape, which is highly effective in the recovery and rehabilitation stage of treatment, but is not strong enough in this type of immediate situation. Additionally helpful in these situations are a crackable cold-pack and a small supply of combination anti-inflammatory and painkiller medication, such as ibuprofen or aspirin (follow instructions on the packaging and read all warning information).

black athletic tape

Perhaps the most common injury that occurs while hiking is a twisted or sprained ankle. A sprained ankle hurts, and without immediate treatment can make it impossible to get the injured person to safety without a helicopter rescue. Thankfully, an ankle is very easy to tape up into a makeshift brace, even if you’re not a trained physiotherapist. If done quickly and correctly, the tape can postpone swelling in the joint, which can increase pain and hinder mobility, and it can provide enough support to allow the person to walk until she or he can reach a hospital.

First things first, when a person has injured an ankle, immediately bring the person into a sitting position with the injured leg extended and elevated on something (a backpack is a good thing to have them prop the leg onto). Elevating the injured joint as quickly as possible is crucial to prevent swelling. If you have ibuprofen, aspirin, or a similar anti-inflammatory, take the recommended dosage on the packaging at this time. Do not take aspirin if you are bleeding. Gently remove the shoe and sock.

To start a temporary ankle taping, wrap a thick piece of tape once or twice around the top of the ankle - just below the base of the calf muscle. Think of it as where the top of a high sock would hit. This band is your top anchor. You want your top anchor to be tight enough to prevent fluid from rushing into the joint, but not so tight as to completely cut off blood supply. The person should feel tight pressure, but not pain from the top anchor wrap.

Wrap another piece of tape gently around the foot on the arch, just below the ball of the foot: this is your low anchor. You do not want this to be too tight - it should only feel like light pressure.

foot with black athletic tape

Most ankle injuries are lateral ankle injuries, meaning that they occur on the outer side of the ankle. Less common are “high ankle sprains,” which occur on the inner or medial side of the ankle. Depending on which side of the ankle is injured, you will want to start the next step - your bootstrap - from the opposite side.

Take a long strip of tape and attach one end to your top anchor on the opposite side of the injury. Make sure that the ankle is flexed so that the foot and the leg form a 90º angle. Guide the tape down the side of the ankle, under the heel, and back up to the anchor. Repeat once or twice, from slightly different positions, until the tape feels firm and the entire ankle bone is covered, and it starts to prevent the foot from being able to point.

foot with athletic tape

foot with athletic tape

Next, starting from the same place you started your bootstrap, bring a strip of tape down and across the front of the ankle, ending on the low anchor on the opposite side you started, possibly underneath the foot. Do the same thing from the other side in the opposite direction, so the pieces criss-cross. Repeat this step three to five times without having the pieces directly cover each other until the entire front of the ankle and foot are covered.

foot with athletic tape

Foot with athletic tape

Then, starting at the top anchor on the injured side, wrap a strip of tape down and around the back of the ankle to the opposite side and then under the foot, to end on the bottom of the low anchor. Do the same from the other side, and repeat once or twice if necessary.

heel with athletic tape

Finally, wrap new strips of tape around both your anchors, to seal off all the strips ending on them. This will secure the tape wrap.

foot with athletic tape

At this point, apply a cold compress if you have one for five to ten minutes. Try to stand and gently put weight on the ankle to test it. If the injured person thinks he or she can walk at this point, put the shoe and sock back on and carefully get down the mountain and to a medical treatment facility as soon as possible.

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