First Aid Supplies: Sprained Ankle Support

My ankles are my nemeses. I've sprained them many times. Weak and overly flexible, they are a constant concern on my backcountry adventures. This is what I carry to deal with my evil ankles, along with the recommended ways to tape an ankle in the backcountry, courtesy of my recent Wilderness First Aid course from the Wilderness Medical Institute.

ACE BandageThese wide, stretchy bandages provide both quick support and compression. When wrapping an ankle, the goal is to get the ACE bandage as tight as is comfortable without compromising circulation (it will loosen up some as you start walking on it).

I usually start just above the ankle, keeping the bandage as flat as possible, and make a complete wrap. I then begin a series of figure eights, rolling the bandage across my instep and under my foot before circling it back around the top of the ankle. Take care to keep each wrap as smooth and kink-free as possible—tiny wrinkles can be a surprising aggravation when you walk on them.

Look for 6-inch-wide ACE bandages that secure with a strip of Velcro, as opposed to the little metal clippies found on many models. These are easy to misplace and don't hold up well to repeated use.

Medical TapeIf you need maximum support for your ankle, take the time to tape it up. ACE bandages are easy, fast, and convenient to use, but are bulky and often difficult to get into a hiking boot. They also don't provide the same level of support you can get by taping your ankle with medical tape, which is usually white. Look for 1-inch width.

When taping an ankle, try and keep the joint as close to a right angle as possible. First encircle tape around your upper ankle (roughly one to two finger widths above the ankle bone) and your instep (again one to two fingers from the ankle bone). These are your "anchor" strips and mark the upper and lower limits of your tape job. Next cut three equal-length pieces to act as "stirrups." Attach each one first to your heel and then stick them to the sides of your ankle to reach the anchor strip. Overlap them as you do this.

Next you'll create three "J-wraps." Take the roll and stick the end of the tape to the inside of your upper ankle, then wrap it down, across your instep, over the outer edge of your foot, under your arch, and then back up the side of your ankle to the upper anchor. Repeat two more times, again overlapping them as you go.

The finishing touch is three "figure eight" wraps. This is essentially the same as a J-wrap, except that you complete it with an extra wrap by circling the upper ankle with the tape at the end. If any large patches of skin remain exposed between the wraps, consider placing a few pieces of tape over them to prevent chafing and hot spots.

May you have happier ankles than mine!

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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