A growing trend in football was particularly noticeable during this year's World Youth Championship in Malaysia: when the Brazilian players had their football boots off, it was plain to see how the entire team played with taping on both ankles. Reason enough for FIFA Magazine to wonder why....
Because of the nature of the game, football injuries commonly affect the feet and the ankles. Poorly constructed and/or poorly maintained pitches increase the players' risk of injury. Getting a foot stuck in a depression or stumbling over a bumpy surface often leads to strains or ruptures of the outer ligaments, less often, but more serious when they occur, to those on the inner side.
Anatomy of the foot
On the outside and the inside of the ankle, the muscles and tendons act as active stabilisers, while the ligaments are passive stabilisers.
A network of nerves and receptors in the skin, the muscles and the tendons carry stimuli through the spinal column and up to the brain. On receipt of these messages, the brain decides the right course of action and signals it to the muscles in the area, e.g. in the ankle.
Evolution of the football boot
The older style football boot with its hard toe-cap and high sides offered protection to ankle bones, ligaments, tendons and the toes. But it limited the range of movement of the foot. However, greater freedom of foot movement is now recognised as a basic requirement for the technically gifted player to be able to use all his skills to the full controlling the ball, hitting precise passes, giving the ball the right amount of swerve, etc.
The material and the method
The freedom of ankle movement that the modern footballer requires makes it necessary for the materials used to be flexible and yet still offer protection. One such material is the modern tape. Today these are smooth, strongly adhesive strips of plaster with little elastoplastic deformability. They come in a range of widths and colours and are applied in such a way as to limit movement in a direction that might be dangerous. The "normal" function, or the physiological function as it is known, is not affected; only movement beyond the normal range is prevented.
The elasticity and the strength of the tape allow multipurpose use, i.e., not only can practically every joint in the body be taped, but also muscles and tendons too,e.g., in the case of muscle or tendon injuries, chronic tendon problems or torn muscle fibres.
Thus tapes are not only encountered in football, but in many other sports where foot injuries are a likely risk, e.g. volleyball, orienteering, gymnastics and tennis. We have all seen the white taped fingers of volleyball players, the gymnast's taped wrists, or the tennis player's taped thigh. The art of taping has become an integral part of all these sports.
Purpose and objectives
There are two main components in effective taping:
1. passive mechanical strengthening parallel to anatomical structures(ligaments)
2. active stimulation of nerve sensors in the tissues under the tape.
Every movement of a player's foot causes a change in the tension of the tape which is detected immediately by the nerve sensors. These impulses are transmitted through the nervous system (spinal column) to the brain, just like messages from other sensory organs such as eyes, ears and balance centres. After processing the signals, the brain sends responses to the peripheral muscles involved tense, stabilise, defend. This regulatory circuit, or reflex action, is the basic principle of proprioception. This is a process which informs us, partly consciously but also unconsciously, of the momentary state of action readiness and body position and prepares the next reactionary movement. The result is that by appropriate tensioning and defensive movement of the muscles and tendons, the foot will not be caught unawares in an unprotected position.
This technique and good training, including simulation of expected modes of action, are important parts of the prophylactic process against injury.
For example, taking a long jump that lands in a pit with visual control is far less dangerous than an accidental stumble into the same pit. The latter action can often result in serious injuries.
In summary it can be said that taping on the one hand offers passive protection, while on the other, by stimulating appropriate proprioceptive functions, it offers an active prophylaxis against foot injures in football players.