Taping for Achilles tendonitis
Updated: Jul 6, 2022
One of the more common questions our patients ask us is, ‘How do I tape my Achilles to relieve pain and improve its function?’ In this article, I explain why people use kinesiotape on Achilles injuries, what the research says about how effective it is, and what else you can do to manage pain and improve function in your injured Achilles tendon. Remember, if you need more help with an Achilles injury, you're welcome to consult one of our team via video call.
The terms tendinitis, tendonitis, tendinosis, and tendinopathy mean the same thing for all practical purposes, and we use these interchangeably in our articles.
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Taping Achilles tendonitis: Why do people do it?
Why do patients want taping for Achilles tendonitis?
Patients tend to ask us to tape their Achilles injuries because they want to speed up their recovery and get better more quickly.
Some of them are also keen to continue doing their sport or activity or to get back to it, and they believe that having the injury taped will help to reduce the pain.
Lastly, some want the taping to protect their Achilles tendon against further injury.
Why do clinicians recommend taping for Achilles tendonitis?
The main reasons why clinicians recommend taping an Achilles injury are based on notions about pain management and healing that probably originated with the manufacturers of kinesiotape.
Some recommend taping an Achilles injury because it is believed that the tape lifts the skin so that there’s more space between the skin, the muscle, and other types of tissue, which improves circulation. Better circulation is believed to reduce pain and speed up the healing process.
It is also thought that kinesiotaping improves proprioception in an injured limb, i.e. ‘knowing’ where your foot is without having to look at it. So, when you put your foot on the floor, it gives you information about what that surface is like, what position it is in, and what position the rest of your leg is in.
Lastly, there’s the placebo effect. Taping an injured Achilles can give a patient confidence in that area; it creates a thought process that they can use the limb, and they may move more fluidly. Also, if the patient believes that this is helping and therefore there will be less pain, it can cause an actual decrease in pain.
What does the research say about taping for Achilles pain?
It’s a bit of a mixed bag, really.
When we looked at research papers on taping, not just for Achilles injuries but for various body parts, some of them reported that kinesiotaping works, but many others did not find any such evidence.
So, we don't have a robust evidence base to say that taping is the best way to manage pain and speed up recovery for an injured Achilles tendon.
What we do know anecdotally from experience with our patients is that taping for an Achilles injury is like Marmite. Some people hate it, and some people love it. So, you've either got those who find it very useful, and it really helps their symptoms, and then there are those for whom it has made no difference.
At least we know from the evidence that it doesn't do any harm (as long as it doesn’t cause a skin irritation). But it doesn't change what's going on physiologically or pathologically within your Achilles tendon. It doesn't change the anatomy, and it doesn't change what's happening that caused the Achilles tendonitis in the first place.
Alternatives to taping Achilles tendonitis
While the jury is hung on the benefits of taping for Achilles injuries, there are other, evidence-based, ways of achieving the same results in terms of pain management and improving function.
Let’s go back to the reasons why people like to have their injured Achilles tendons taped.
Speeding up recovery: Because taping has no effect on what happens inside the tendon, it does not speed up recovery. The best way to restore the strength in the tendon and aid its recovery is with a strength training programme. Strength training exercises stimulate the tendon to produce new fibres. One theory is that it restores the structure of the tendon and also strengthens the existing fibres. It makes the tendon robust enough to cope with whatever you will subject it to in your day-to-day activities as well as in your sport.
Pain reduction during activity: This is especially a Marmite issue. Some people report that taping works for them, for others it does nothing. So, you could give taping a go and see whether it helps to reduce your pain.
However, there is a more efficient alternative to take the strain off your Achilles tendon: a heel lift inside your shoe. Lifting your heel slightly in relation to the ball of your foot removes some stretch and strain from the tendon, which helps to reduce the pain symptoms. Over time, this is cheaper and quicker than applying kinesiotape, and you can transfer the heel lift between shoes. Again, this will not speed up the healing process, it's just helping with pain.
Protection against re-injury: I could not find any evidence that kinesiotaping an Achilles injury helps to protect the tendon. Again, it’s all about rehab, rehab, and a bit more rehab to get the tendon robust and strong enough to cope with what you demand of it.
So, in summary, there’s no harm in using kinesiotape for your Achilles injury to reduce your pain, but know that it will not speed up your recovery or protect you from re-injury. The proven way to recovery is through a combination of ‘relative rest’ and a carefully graded exercise programme to strengthen your tendon back up. If you want to know more about treatment, please visit our Achilles Fact File.
How we can help
Need more help with your Achilles injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at TMA online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.
We're all UK Chartered Physiotherapists with Master’s Degrees related to Sports & Exercise Medicine. But at Treat My Achilles we don't just value qualifications; all of us also have a wealth of experience working with athletes across a broad variety of sports, ranging from recreationally active people to professional athletes. You can meet the team here.
About the Author
Alison Gould is a chartered physiotherapist and holds an MSc in Sports and Exercise Medicine. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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Fares, M.Y., Khachfe, H.H., Salhab, H.A., Zbib, J., Fares, Y. and Fares, J., 2021. Achilles tendinopathy: Exploring injury characteristics and current treatment modalities. The Foot, 46, p.101715.
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