Athletic Training column

Spatting football cleats

By Jenn Mroz | Jul 10, 2014
Photo by: File An athletic trainer spats a football player’s cleats.

This is a topic that comes up every so often in my athletic training room:  spatting cleats for football games.  Everyone has their own opinion about this, but I’d like to explain my reasons why I dislike this technique and let you make your own decision.
The term spatting refers to taping an ankle over the top of the shoe.  Some athletes think it looks cool; they see their favorite college or NFL players with spatted shoes and want to emulate them.  
In theory, it’s supposed to provide more support at the ankle and prevent ankle injuries.  And in actuality, it probably does just that.  The main problem I see with it is that it increases the risk of non-contact ligament sprains and tears at the knee joint.
The sport of football requires certain positions to plant their feet and pivot to change direction.  If the shoe sticks into the playing surface, and the athlete pivots, there is a little bit of “give” within the shoe, and natural rotation at the ankle can still occur.  When the ankle and shoe are spatted together, that “give” disappears, and the result is excessive rotation at the knee joint.  The most common knee injuries caused by rotation are ACL and meniscal (cartilage) tears.  Depending on the severity, meniscal tears can put someone out of participation for three weeks to three months, while ACL tears are a five to six  month recovery after surgery.  Comparing that with the time frame for an ankle sprain, an athlete with an ankle sprain will return to play a lot faster.
Another reason I don’t like to spat shoes is that it makes it very difficult to get at the ankle or lower leg when there is an injury.  In order to evaluate an injury, I have to be able to get to the injured area to look for deformities and perform special tests.  It’s much harder, and takes longer, to cut off tape spatted over shoes vs. a taped ankle.
Finally, athletic tape is not cheap.  Working on a high school budget, I don’t have a lot of surplus funds to buy extra tape to spat shoes.  But, even when an athlete offers to buy his own tape, I still refuse to spat.  
Part of my job as an Athletic Trainer is to prevent injuries.  I’m not going to knowingly put any athlete at a higher risk of injury.  So, if any of my athletes feel the need for more stability at the ankle, I give them the option to wear lace-up ankle braces or get their ankles taped.
Next time, I’ll continue on an injury prevention theme and will discuss techniques we’re implementing to assess injury risks, so we can provide injury prevention programs to our athletes.  
Until then, stay healthy.