How to Tear Tape

by James D. Hundley, MD

You may think that this is silly, but it’s one of those “essential” techniques you don’t learn in the classroom.  Have you ever struggled to tear off a strip of adhesive tape to apply a dressing?  If you’re not in the medical profession, how about tearing duct tape?  Can you do it?

It seems like it takes three hands to hold and cut tape with scissors, and scissors are not always available or accessible.  Typically they are in the wrong pocket and you can’t easily reach them with your free hand.

I don’t know when it was in med school that a tiny little nurse embarrassed me by deftly tearing off a strip from a roll of wide adhesive tape.  I had made a mess of trying and she got a kick out of making fun of me.  Then she taught me how to do it.

It’s simple but not intuitive.  Most people will hold the tape in both hands and try to twist and tear it.  That feels like the natural way to do it, but it bunches up the tape at the top edge and makes the tear hard to start.

The “correct way” is to grasp the tape between the thumb and index fingers of both hands and then pull apart the top edge without twisting the tape.  Think of turning the palms from the palm-down into the palm-up position (i.e. supinating them) while pulling the top edge of the tape apart.  If you can’t pull hard enough without some leverage, you can roll your hands outward leveraging on the backs (dorsal aspects) of the otherwise unused long, ring, and small fingers.  Just don’t twist it.

You can do this.  It just takes a little practice.  Then you can enjoy embarrassing your co-workers and some novice medical student yourself.

Tearing apart telephone books is a different matter.  Maybe we’ll address that sometime in the future.

Dr. Hundley is a retired orthopaedic surgeon living in Wilmington.  He is the founder and president of a resource website for orthopaedic and other surgeons and related professionals.