Purpose: Recurrence of ankle sprains is common among athletes. While ankle taping reduces the risk of injury, the mechanism underlying its effectiveness remains unclear. Anecdotal reports suggest a role for the athlete’s belief that taping will protect them from injury. That is, taping may have a placebo effect. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether there was a placebo effect with ankle taping in individuals with ankle instability.
Methods: 30 participants with ankle instability completed a single-limb hopping test and a modified star excursion balance test under three conditions: 1) real tape, 2) placebo tape, and 3) control (no tape). Participants were blinded to the purpose of the study and were informed that the study aimed to compare two methods of ankle taping referred to as “mechanical” (real) and “proprioceptive” (placebo). The order of testing the three conditions and the two functional tests was randomised.
Results: There was no significant difference in performance among the three conditions for the single-limb hopping test (p=0.865) or the modified star excursion balance test (p=0.491). A secondary exploratory analysis, however, revealed that real and placebo ankle taping influenced participants’ perceptions of stability, confidence and reassurance when performing the functional tests.
Conclusion: The role of the placebo effect with ankle taping in individuals with ankle instability remains unclear. Clinicians, therefore, should continue to use ankle taping techniques of known efficacy. They should, however, focus on maximising patients’ belief in the efficacy of ankle taping, since its application reassured participants and improved perceived stability and confidence. The effect of ankle taping on participants’ perceptions may contribute to its effectiveness in preventing injury. This proposal requires further investigation.