Athletic Taping of the Lower Limb

Athletic taping is commonly used in human sports medicine to begin a physical therapy program; it stabilizes injured soft tissues and helps prevent further injury. Years of experience in the use of athletic taping as well as scientific research supports its use in humans. Unfortunately, there is little research available to support athletic taping in horses.

It is not yet known whether taping can stabilize soft tissues in the equine limb. If, for example, the fetlock could be prevented from hyperextension (dropping down), flexor tendon stretch would be reduced, helping protect them from injury. This was just one hypothesis of a study conducted by researchers from the Universitat Autonoma in Barcelona, Spain, and Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Six young, sound horses were studied to evaluate the effects of athletic taping on fetlock mechanics. Ground reaction forces (GRF) were evaluated with a computerized force plate, and movement (kinematic) data were gathered by marking strategic points on each horse's body and limbs and taking photographs at timed intervals.

Athletic taping of both forelimbs of each horse was conducted by a single experienced athletic trainer using medical adhesive spray, sports tape, pretape wrap, and elastic bandage wrap. Limbs were taped from just below the knee to just below the fetlock. Importantly, the tape was applied so as not to constrict the soft tissues. All horses were checked the day after taping for any sign of lameness or swelling; none was evident.

Computer analysis of  kinematic data showed that peak flexion of the fetlock during the swing phase of the trot (foot off the ground) was significantly reduced by taping. In addition, GRF analysis revealed that peak vertical force decreased during the stance phase (foot on the ground), even though peak vertical impulse stayed the same. In other words, horses that were taped had the same force acting on the limb heading toward the ground, but then slowed that force as the limb hit the ground. This is important, because it prevents hyperextension of the fetlock, thus protecting the flexor tendons and associated structures during landing.

The authors concluded that athletic taping affects kinematics of the lower forelimb during the swing phase of the stride, and GRF during stance. These effects might help prevent further injury during rehabilitation of soft tissues in this area.

Ramon, T.; Prades, M.; Armengou, L.; et al. Equine Veterinary Journal, 36 (8): 764-768, 2004.

About the Author

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD, is a free-lance writer in the biomedical sciences. She practiced veterinary medicine in North Carolina before accepting a fellowship to pursue a PhD in physiology at North Carolina State University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two sons.

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