Why Do Football Players Tape Their Wrists?

Football player playing in a field

If you watch football regularly, you may have noticed that players traditionally tape their wrists. Although a small amount of tape around a player's wrist appears to have very little function, this tradition has multiple uses and may be an important part of a player's pregame preparation. Although debate exists on how beneficial this tradition is for players, don't expect it to go away anytime soon.

Supporting the Wrist

Football is a contact sport, with a fair number of injuries sustained in games. Pads, helmets and protective shoes support some vulnerable parts of the body, but football players limit protective gear around their arms and hands because of the constant need to grab other players as well as catch and throw the football. However, the wrist is one of the smallest areas of the body with little protection. To avoid the risk of injury and provide support without adding bulk, football players tape their wrists regularly. Although taping a wrist may not completely prevent an injury, tape may lessen the severity of a wrist sprain or prevent a fracture.

Post-Injury Healing

Athletic tape may not only prevent an injury, but also help a player returning to the field earlier. Following certain wrist injuries such as sprains, wrist strapping may be beneficial and support the injured area. A player may choose to tape his wrist and play with an injury instead of allowing the area to rest and heal as recommended. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine does not promote wrist taping for wrist fractures or ligament tears in this area. But for an injury that has healed, wrist taping may provide extra support to help avoid reinjuring the wrist area.

Increasing Grip Strength

Professional and collegiate players may believe that taping their wrists increases grip strength because of the supportive nature of tape. However, a study published in the "American Journal of Sports Medicine" studied 25 football players who taped their wrists during games. Researchers measured group strength in both taped and free wrists and determined that there were no significant differences in grip strengths. Although other factors play a role in hand strength, taping your wrist does not appear to cause any significant gains in hand strength.

Part of the Game

As many sports enthusiasts understand, ritual plays an important role for football players. For a player who is used to having a certain pregame meal or performing a certain warm-up, these aspects of the game, although perhaps contributing minimally to the outcome of the game, mean a great deal to players. Even though taping may not be as beneficial as its promoters suggest, players don't appear to be willing to give up taping up their wrists, hands and legs on a regular basis.