Taping for climbing injuries
Tape is a climber's best friend. This article describes the basic principles of taping and gives some examples of when and how to apply tape to the hands, wrist, thumb and fingers and when taping is best avoided.
Remember, tape is not a substitute for actual body parts and if improperly applied it may aggravate an existing injury or disrupt the natural mechanics of the body and create a new injury.
Uses of tape:
- Protection of dressings
- Holding padding in place
- Compression of an injury - blood and/or swelling
- Support of recent joint or muscle injuries and protection from further injury
- Limitation of range of motion at a joint
- Support of an area to aid early return to sport
Remember, tape is not a substitute for actual body parts
Choosing a tape
When choosing tape you need to consider the job it is required for, cost, tear-ability and adhesiveness. Generally, the more expensive tape has better adhesion and strength. If a tape is easy to tear then it saves you messing about with scissors. Adhesiveness ensures the tape job will last longer and, if you are likely to be out in wet conditions, good adhesive is essential.
Preparation and application
- Zinc oxide - a firm tape, does not stretch. Used for supportive strapping around joints. It is tearable and very adhesive. Not to be wrapped concentrically around a joint or limb as it can act as a tourniquet if pulled tight.
- Elastoplast - a stretchy tape, not tearable. Used for muscle injuries and compression. Provides a low level of support.
- Cohesive bandage and tubigrip - both useful for compression and basic joint support.
Wash the area with soap and water; shave the area if hairy, as tape will be more adhesive and less sore to remove. Apply adhesive or padding if appropriate.
You can buy tape from most climbing shops
Wrist, thumb and finger strapping
When working on the hand, as it is fairly bony, zinc oxide is most commonly used. Choose width of tape according to hand size but 25mm is most common.
- Place so structures are relaxed
- Overlap each strip approx half of the previous strip width
- Avoid continuous taping with zinc - break each strip off
- Overlap the ends of each strip by approx 25mm to seal
- Smooth tape on as laid down on skin
- Allow tape to fill natural contours
- Don't pull tape too tight - this can restrict circulation and / or break down the skin
- Avoid gaps and wrinkles as blisters can form around them
Tape is often useful on injured fingers. There may be a feeling of weakness and/or instability associated with finger injuries. If you stave a finger joint, bind it to an adjoining finger. This gives it support. Using zinc, wrap a piece of tape around one finger and into the next, above and below the middle joint. Place a little padding between the fingers if especially tender.
Tape can give extra support to the finger tendons. Use a piece of zinc 25 or 12mm wide, wrap it once around the finger between the joints. This helps sling the tendon and gives it support. It's trial and error as to how tight and where you place it, but make sure you do not limit the joint's range.
Tape is often useful on injured fingers. There may be a feeling of weakness and/or instability associated with finger injuries
'Skiers thumb' happens when the thumb gets caught and wrenched backwards. The ligaments supporting the knuckle joint get damaged. A supportive wrap reduces discomfort and aids function. Start by attaching the tape to the outer edge of your wrist (little finger side). Take the tape, with a gentle pull across the back of the hand to the outer edge of the thumb knuckle, wind it under the joint and cross back over the tape to rejoin the starting point on the palm side.
Redo this about three times with some overlap so that the joint is fully covered with a criss-cross pattern on the back of the knuckle. You can use elastoplast or zinc oxide. Zinc will give maximum support, but remember not to wind this tape concentrically. Cut individual each strip to prevent circulatory restriction.
Zinc oxide can be used here but watch that circulation to the hand is not compromised. Pain at the wrist joint, or a feeling of weakness in your grip can often be helped by a simple application of tape. If movement of the joint in a certain direction casues pain you can limit this movement or direction with tape to reduce the pain.
Place two to three 2.5cm strips of zinc at the area where a watch sits. These should be placed on with some tension. This pulls the ulna and radius 'together' to support the joint and it also 'slings' the tendons, giving them additional support. Usually this will increase overall power at the wrist and hand and reduce discomfort.
If there is pain at the wrist when moving the hand in a certain direction, place additional pieces of tape to limit the movement
If there is pain at the wrist when moving the hand in a certain direction, place additional pieces of tape to limit the movement coming off the band area. For example, a strap from the outer wrist border, through the thumb web space and back to the outer border may limit the hands ability to cock towards the thumb side.
You may have to experiment with the tape. Do not layer the tape excessively, as this may cause additional problems. You should notice a benefit from taping - otherwise there is no point in doing it!
Never put tape on:
- Infected wounds (unless it is a proper dressing)
- Skin that has a known adhesive allergy (this is common.)
- Where it will do more harm than good
- Where there is loss of sensation
- Where there is a potential or obvious circulatory damage