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Typical injuries in martial arts

May 14, 2018

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A sports injury in the narrow sense signifies the injury typical of a particular sports activity or a certain sport, determined by the way of occurrence and frequency. 

If you’re a martial arts practitioner, whether you take it very seriously or keep it casual, it’s important to know what kind of injuries you can expect, Knowing the possible hurts can help you better avoid them in the future.

How Do Martial Arts Injuries Happen?

carlos condit in a match

One of the simplest definitions of an injury is: "The injury is all the damage to the tissue suddenly generated in a certain, defined and limited time.” From the medical point of view, sports injuries are a sub-part of the traumatology field that deals with injuries, no matter how they occur and where they are.

When it comes to sports injuries or damages, most of those are caused by mechanical force. Mechanical forces, however, are not considered to be only those that act externally, such as the kick of an object, an opponent's strike or a fall to the ground, but also they can be caused by the contractions of one’s own muscles from within. An example of injury occuring within the sport practitioner’s muscles is the Achilles tendon rupture due to strong muscular soleus contraction.

How Likely Are Martial Arts Injuries to Happen?

two women fighting a judo match

If we talk about the expected probability of a certain risk of injury in a particular sport, as well in martial arts, then we look at statistics. But data, statistics and records of sports injuries are first and foremost problematic. Records of statistical data depend on many factors, and these factors also depend on the health institution in which the data is collected. This can cause a lot of mistakes that give an incorrect picture of the real situation.

It can be hugely different to collect data in a general hospital or at a specialist sports injury facility. Also, a specialized institution will accept only certain selected athletes (especially according to the severity of the injury), so that no real statistical picture can be expected. Medical data in general is facing issues with accuracy of its own, but in martial arts (and sports in general) the problem is even more widespread.

A real picture or a more realistic picture of the number of injuries in a particular martial art can be obtained if the number of injuries is measured against the number of athletes. But it is very difficult, and practically impossible to gather correct information on the number of active athletes. A more doable approach is to compare the number of athletes insured (especially against injuries in sports) with the number of reported sports injuries.

Types of Sports Injuries

most common types of martial arts injuries

Image source: Pinterest.

According to the severity of injury, sports injuries can be labeled as follows:

1) - the most serious injuries - mortal

2) - severe injuries - with permanent disability for future work and sports,

3) - medium severe injuries - with a longer disability period for future work and sports,

4) - light injuries - with a short term inability to work and practice a sport

5) - very light injuries - with a short-term strain or no reduction whatsoever in work and sports ability.

By studying the cases of disability and the number of injuries in active athletes, some statistics have been infered that determine the potential of injury risk:

- to 40 athletes per year - 1 sports injury,

- to 4,000 athletes per year - 1 case of disability,

- to 40,000 athletes per year - one mortal outcome

According to statistics, sports injuries are most often of a lighter nature (80% result in a termporary disability of less than six weeks).

mma match fencing

The most common causes involved in the appearance of sports injuries are:

- the persons themselves (tiredness, neglect, insufficient warming up, poor technique, an existing over-illness, pushing it beyond their own abiltiies, fear or trembling at the competition, negligence in work, poor motivation)

- another person (deliberate injuries in a sports fight, accidental injuries, carelessness, poor technique, neglect, roughness in the sport, an opponent who has a better technique, an opponent of excessive body weight)

- the martial art itself as a sport in which, according to established and agreed rules, a violent injury to an opponent is permitted

- the sport equipment (incorrect or inappropriate clothing or footwear, worn out equipment, poor or insufficient protective equipment)

- a defective floor in the hall (sliding, damaged, etc.)

- safety measures (poor exercise assistance, lack of attention by the instructor)

The most common injuries in martial arts

mma fight injury kick

One of the typical injuries in martial arts (karate, ju - jutsu, judo, wrestling, MMA etc.) is a joint injury of the fingers. Among the fractures, the most common ones are of the knuckles, the bone fracture of the scaphoideum, as well as the bone fracture under the thumb (especially during the breaking technique or tameshiwari).

Typical injuries of boxers (all those practicing kick boxing, savate, MMA, muay thai etc.) are various shifts and fractures of the fingers and wrists with damage of the joint hinges. Appropriate bandages, a good blow technique and good gloves can help to reduce the risk fracture of your fingers. One of the frequent injuries is the injury known as a boxer's thumb. The injury of the boxer's thumb is the result of repeated spraining of the palatal joint.

Dislocation is most commonly caused by bad techniques when performing hand grips or by badly placed bands. Depending on the severity of the injury, the ability to or practice sports will only return after one to two months with minor finger injuries and up to six months in some hand fractures.

A common occurrence in wrestling is skin irritation at the back of the neck, too. The elbow in judo, wrestling, MMA, etc. is also exposed to various injuries, especially if the arm is not straightened before the fall. Furthermore, in judo, wrestling, ju-jutsu, MMA, etc. there is a high frequency of clavicle or rib fracture as well as frequent typical site thumb fractures.

Depending on the severity of the injury, the ability to work, ie, sports activity will be possible in ten to fifteen days after brain concussion. To repair the upper leg muscle injury, it will take the contestant from three to five weeks, for elbow joint injuries between eight and ten weeks, and for a bone fracture two to three months, depending on the severity of the injury. For the toe and the elbow bones fractures, the recovery time can be from three to six months. When the rib is broken, the time of remediation is at least four to six weeks.

One of the typical injuries or, better said, damages to fencing (modern fencing, kendo, Iai do, ko budo, kali, arnis, some forms with weapons etc.) is considered to be inflammation of the median nerve. Due to many movements in the manual wrist, directed downwards, as well as frequent movements with the hand down, there is an elbow injury often described as - the tennis elbow. Such damage is the result of excessive progressive tension of the forearm muscles.

The result of this excessive strain is the microtraumatic changes in the area of ​​the muscle movement in the tibia, in the tibia itself, and in the area of ​​the tetanus joint on the bone. The main symptom of such damage is pain, which can be so strong that the athlete cannot sleep without painkillers. To repair such an injury, it is necessary for the athlete to stop all activity for one to three weeks. One of the frequent injuries from fencing is also the injury of the muscles of the upper thighs, often causing pain in the groin. Such aches mean that the athlete should stop training within a period of two weeks and up to one month.

One of the main injuries in martial arts such as tae kwon do, karate, muay thai, kung fu, MMA etc. is also a ankle joint luxation. In such an injury, swelling of the ankle joint will very quickly occur, so it is important to immediately put on a cold compression. In order to remedy such an injury, the athlete will need to stay still for two to three weeks. If the ankle fracture has occurred, the time to repair the injury will last from three to four months. In tae kwon do (capoeira, as well as some kung fu and karate styles) there are also frequent injuries during various jumps, with muscle fibers of the quadriceps femoris damages happening more often, and sometimes there is Achilles tendon rupture due to strong muscular contraction of muscle soleus. Also, the knee joint may be sprained, which may even hurt meniscus. In meniscal injuries, as well as in Achilles tendon rupture, the time to repair the injury can last from three to four months.

brain damage due to box punch

Typical wrestling and judo injuries (ju - jutsu, grappling, sumo, MMA, etc.) include numerous cranial and back muscle cramps. Among the muscle injuries in wrestling and judo, the most frequent one is arm muscle damage (biceps). There are also various injuries of the shoulder as well as of the ankle joint. When the opponent drops and throws, the head can hit the ground, and if the kick is strong, brain concussion occurs. Typical wrestlers' (MMA, grappling, etc.) ear injury is othematoma and if it is repeated, it causes the deformation of the earl the so-called cauliflower ear. Othematoma is a hematoma in the earlobe that cannot be resorbed and, therefore, creates characteristic irregularities. For that reason wrestlers use protective ear masks.

There are various head injuries in martial arts. The head is a desirable target because a well-directed blow to the head often knocks the opponent down. Also, a blow that causes a short-term loss of consciousness of the opponent often leads to victory. In boxing a strike that affects the head primarily causes the movement of the head, then the movement of the brain mass. These moves are not simultaneous. In the first stage the skeleton of the skull is moved, and then only the brain mass follows that movement. In the second stage the skull comes to a standstill, but the brain mass is still moving in the direction of the force action.

Therefore, the injury mechanism necessarily causes damage to the brain mass at the point of impact or on the opposite side (contrecoup), or it damages the blood vessels between the meninges and the brain. To protect yourself from brain damage, you should make sure to practice only the martial arts which don’t allow blows to the head, or practice only within controlled environments such as beginner’s martial art camps and workshops. 

What Martial Art Has the Most Injuries?

tae kwon do match

Some studies and rumors point to MMA as being the martial art whose practioners are most prone to injuries. Other studies simply compare various types of martial arts and conclude that tae kwon do is the most likely to cause injuries. Since research is still inconclusive and often contradictory, it’s hard to know what martial art is the most dangerous as far as injuries go.

But the key take-away of all statistical studies, including those linked above, is that beginner and intermediate martial arts practitioners have few things to fear. Most of the injuries in any type of sport or martial art occur in the segment of advanced martial artists who participate in serious competitions. As long as you’re only practicing a martial art for getting fit, self-defense skills or the relaxation and mental benefits it brings, you aren’t very likely to get seriously injured.


Want to get initiated into a martial art so you can start practicing it safely? There are hundreds of budget martial arts camps where you can learn all the safety measures you need, in addition to great technique.

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