Prescriptions: Doctoring for the Downside

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, October 1996

Prescriptions: Doctoring for the Downside
By Andrew Tilin

The flip side of downhill training is that it can be hard on your joints and tendons. "Ankles are an obvious concern when you're running downhill," says Richard Watkins, a strength and conditioning specialist for the U.S. Ski Team.

When you do happen to land wrong on your ankle, you needn't wait for a full recovery before running again. Once you can stand on it, break out the tape. However, it's more complicated than simply grabbing the nearest spool of adhesive and spiraling away. "It's an art," says Watkins, who's taped the tortured ankles of Picabo Street many times.

Step 1: Lay Anchor Strips
After wrapping a smooth layer of foamy prewrap from your calf to your arch, start with the tape. "Here's the foundation for the rest of the tape job," Watkins says. Cut two strips of inch-and-a-half-wide athletic-cloth tape to fit around your lower leg. Wrap the first strip just below the calf. The second strip should overlap the bottom half of the first. Now do the same with two more strips at the far end of your arch.

Step 2: Form Stirrups
Run single pieces of tape from the upper anchor strips, down your leg, under the front of your heel, and up the other side. "The stirrups should extend to the highest points taped," Watkins says. He uses three strips of tape, adding one stirrup for every 50 pounds of body weight over 150 pounds.

Step 3: Add a layer
Now wrap bands of tape perpendicular to the stirrups, covering the lower leg. "Go around the leg only once per piece of tape," Watkins says. "Otherwise you tend to pull tighter and tighter." Overlap each strip by half its width. Do the same for your foot, starting at the anchor strips.

Step 4: Make Heel Locks
Attach the tape just above the outside ankle bone, and bring it around the front of your leg, above your inside ankle bone. Angle the tape sharply down before it hits your Achilles tendon, wrapping (almost vertically) across the base of the tendon. Bring the roll around the side of heel, underneath the arch, and then over the bridge of your foot before cutting it. Finally, create a mirror image, starting with the tape above the ankle on the inside.

Step 5: Add Another Layer
Last, add another mummy layer of tape to the entire wrap. Then push on your big toenail and watch. "This is called the capillary-refill test," Watkins says. "You're making sure that the nail changes from pink to white to pink again within a few seconds." After all, the point of ankle taping isn't to numb your joint, but to support it.

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