Taping for Wrist Pain

It is likely that everyone at some point in their life will experience pain or discomfort in the wrist. In most cases, the injury associated with the pain is minor and will heal with simple conservative treatment (rest, ice, compression, elevation, etc.).

However, severe pain may be an indication of more serious damage to one of the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, or tissues surrounding the wrist joint. The specific location and sensation of wrist pain will vary depending on the injury, ranging from a dull ache to acute needle-like pain.

The most common causes for wrist pain include:

  • Sudden impacts. When people instinctively stretch out their hand to break a fall, the wrist absorbs an extreme amount of force and might bend past its normal range of motion. 
  • Overuse. Repetitive movements or any activity that repeatedly puts high stress on your wrist can inflame the ligaments and tissues or even fracture the bone.
  • Existing hand and wrist conditions. Wrist pain can also occur because of a chronic condition or disease, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, Carpal tunnel syndrome, ganglion cysts, or Kienbock’s disease. 

In the case that wrist pain does not improve within several days of conservative treatment, it is recommended that you see a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. Improper treatment of wrist injuries can lead to further damage, delayed healing, and impaired movement. [1] 

taping for wrist pain

What are the benefits of taping?

Taping is a rehabilitative treatment method frequently used by physiotherapists and athletes as a means of reducing joint pain, improving joint stability, and preventing future injuries.

Generally, treatment suggested by the doctor will be largely sufficient to heal an injury or treat a condition. However, there is sufficient evidence suggesting that taping can further help to stabilize the muscles and ligaments in the wrist and potentially accelerate the healing process.

Depending on the type of wrist injury, taping can help in different ways. In some cases, taping will prevent overextension and reduce the range of motion; other times, it can help relieve strain on the ligaments by distributing how shock forces are absorbed by the wrist during physical activity. [2] 

Kinesio tape vs Athletic tape

There are a number of different tapes that are used for wrist injuries, each one serving a different purpose. To start, many people like to use a comfortable dressing before applying tape, to prevent chafing and skin irritation. This can be a material like Hypafix dressing retention tape (a breathable, non-woven fixative dressing) or Prewrap (a thin layer of foam wrap). Then for the tape, there are two types that are used most frequently:

  • White “athletic tape” or called zinc oxide tape. This woven cotton tape is popular because it is very rigid and can both withstand high tensile loads to keep the joint supported during intense physical activity.
    • While it does not have much stretch, it can still be easily maneuvered around the body’s creases and moving joints. Also, because it’s adhesive and water-resistant, it will not come loose with sweat. [3]
  • Kinesio tape (such as KT Tape or RockTape) is much more flexible than standard athletic tape and still permits a full range of motion.
    • Kinesio tape can also be personalized to the individual, as the strips comes in all different colors, shapes, and sizes, and is able to stretch to various levels of tension. Kinesio tape works to support the joint by gently pull at the skin to stimulate blood flow and help reduce swelling.
    • However, one of the biggest downsides to kinesio tape is that it often requires a more careful application to be most effective. [4]

Proper Taping Practices

There are certain techniques that will contribute to an effective tape application. Before applying tape, the skin should be cleaned of any oils or sweat and dried thoroughly. This is important, as you do not want bacteria and dirt to be trapped between the skin and the tape.

Additionally, the skin should be checked for scratches, rashes, and open wounds; tape should never be applied over of any existing injury. Additionally, many people prefer to remove the hair around the area, so that it is not pulled out when the adhesive tape is removed.

A dressing or a thin layer of protective tape can also protect the skin and hair from irritation and infection. [2]

Proper tape application also involves ensuring the tape is cut to the appropriate length and width, trimmed of loose strands, applied without wrinkles, and wrapped with some tension.

Can I reuse tape if it was barely used?

Tape should never be worn twice, even if it appears barely used. When tape is removed, the adhesive has already been in contact with hair, skin, and sweat. By applying dirty tape, you are increasing the risk of developing skin irritation and infection. Further, the tape will be less adhesive and is more likely to come loose throughout its use. 

How to tape for different wrist injuries

Taping is an easy and inexpensive way to help protect the wrist from injury. There are many different wrapping techniques, each one designed to stabilize a specific muscle or ligament. [5]

Listed below are four common taping techniques for general wrist pain, sprains, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Without a proper diagnosis, it may be difficult to determine which taping technique will be most effective for your specific injury.

Wrist Sprain

Wrist sprains and strains are among the most common joint injuries. They are frequently characterized by a tightening or numbing pain, decreased grip strength, and reduced range of motion in the wrist.

Listed below are three techniques that will help alleviate wrist pain; the first is a standard application with white athletic tape; the second is a common application with Kinesio tape; and the third is a more complex application of athletic tape that offers the most wrist stability.

Standard Application with Athletic Tape [6]

  1. Before taping, clench your hand into a fist. This is important, because it will ensure that when your hand is unclenched, the tape won’t be too tight and restrict blood flow. 
  2. Wrap one layer of protective tape around the upper half of the wrist. Then wrap a second piece of protective tape around the middle and lower part of the wrist. These two pieces of tape are to protect the skin from the adhesive of rigid tape.
  3. Position the wrist so it slants just slightly upwards. With a roll of rigid tape in hand, wrap the tape around the wrist two or three times, so it covers all the tendons that connect the hand and arm. You can achieve more stabilization and immobilization of the wrist joint with more layers of rigid tape.
Treating a Wrist Sprain with Athletic Tape

Kinesio Tape [7]

  1. Position your arm with your palm down and wrist tipped forward. 
  2. With a full strip of kinesio tape, anchor one end about 1 inch below the knuckles and stretch the tape along the length of your forearm. As you approach the elbow joint, lay the end of the tape without stretching it. Gently rub the strip to secure the adhesive.
  3. Stretch half a strip of kinesio tape to about 80% tension and place the middle portion of the tape across the back of the wrist. Once the middle is secured, flip the hand over and smooth both ends of the tape without tension. Make sure the two ends do not overlap, as this will cause compression. 
Treating a Wrist Sprain with Kinesio Tape

Full-Coverage Application with Athletic Tape [8]

  1. Position the arm with the thumb facing upwards and the hand stretched open, to keep the muscles tense.
  2. Apply Pre-wrap around the wrist and over the thumb, by poking a hole in the wrap and sliding the thumb through. In some cases, you may also want to apply a Band-Aid across the web of the thumb to prevent chafing. 
  3. Using rigid athletic tape, wrap the wrist 2-3 times so that it covers from the base of the hand and lower wrist.
  4. With a long piece of rigid tape, anchor one end at the base of the hand under the pinky finger, wrap it across the palm, above the thumb, pinching the tape in half near the webbing (to prevent the tape from digging into the thumb), across the top of the hand, and around the wrist once more. Secure the other end on the back of the hand. 
  5. The precise placement of the following strips will depend on which motion you want to restrict: extension (upward), flexion (forward), radial deviation (laterally inward), or ulnar deviation (laterally outward). To prevent extension and ulnar deviation, bend the wrist slightly forward and place 3-5 strips in a fan formation across the inside of the wrist.
  6. Apply one piece of tape around the wrist to anchor the bottom ends of the fanned strips. Apply a second piece of tape from the base of the palm under the pinky across the palm, above the thumb (pinching it in half), across the back of the hand, and around the wrist. This will anchor the top ends of the fanned strips.
  7. The tape application is successful if the wrist is restricted from extending upwards.
Treating a Wrist Sprain with Athletic Tape Full Coverage

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – KT Tape [9]

With carpal tunnel syndrome, patients experience some form of numbness, tingling, or pain along the forearm and wrist, as a result of strain on the median nerve. This taping technique is designed to offload the flexor tendons and alleviate pain.

  1. Cut a strip of Kinesio tape to the length of your wrist to the elbow, adding a ‘Y split’ to either end of the tape, one side 3cm deep and the other side 2cm deep. 
  2. Position the arm with the palm up, the elbow in extension, and the wrist resting backwards, to stretch the flexor tendon.
  3. Tear the backing off the 2cm tail end and place it on the lower palm without any stretch. Position one tail pointing towards the thumb and the other towards the pinky. Then, smooth the tape along the length of the arm towards the elbow, pulling the tape slightly to achieve a 30% stretch. Before placing the other Y split, stop stretching the tape, as you do not want the tails to be applied with tension. Spread the Y split open on the 3cm end, placing one tail on the medial side and the other on the lateral side. 
  4. Using a shorter strip of Kinesio tape, position the middle of the tape perpendicularly to the arm, just below the elbow, pulling it to 80% stretch. Again, do not apply any stretch on either end of the tape. Place a second short strip in the same way, but just below the wrist. These two pieces of tape serve to decompress the underlying tissues.
  5. Using your hand or the tape’s wrapper, rub the tape to smooth it over and secure the adhesive. 
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Taping

References:

  1. “Knee Pain.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 May 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/knee-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20350849
  2. Petit, Francky. “Taping.” Physiopedia, Sept. 2020, www.physio-pedia.com/Taping.
  3. Miclau, Elizabeth. “Plantar Fasciitis Taping.” Injury Health Blog, 26 Apr. 2021, injuryhealthblog.com/plantar-fasciitis-taping/.
  4. “WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE TAPE? Benefits of Kinesiology Therapeutic (KT)Tape-Small Tool Delivers Big Impact.” Fischer Institute of Physical Therapy & Performance, 16 Oct. 2017, fischerinstitute.com/benefits-kinesiology-therapeutic-tape/.
  5. Miclau, Elizabeth. “How to Apply Tape for Knee Pain: 4 Techniques.” Injury Health Blog, 31 May 2021, injuryhealthblog.com/taping-for-knee-pain/.
  6. “Taping to Stabilise Your Painful Wrist.” YouTube, uploaded by Kusal Goonewardena, 19 May 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skaTciVIjak
  7. “Wrist.” YouTube, uploaded by KT Tape, 14 May 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RUmVqj4zkc&t=7s.
  8. “Wrist Athletic Taping.” YouTube, uploaded by Waterloo Sports Medicine Centre, 22 Feb. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqLy0PLZq7M
  9. “Rocktape application for carpal tunnel issues.” YouTube, uploaded by RocktapeAustralia, 19 Aug. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2-wqgddzrg

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