Sprains And Strains Guide For MMA Athletes
A GUIDE TO SPRAINS AND STRAINS
The difference between a sprain and a strain. It may seem a trivial point to some, but when it is your ligament or muscle that is on the receiving end of the pain, you will want the correct diagnosis and treatment.
Our art and sport are plagued by these two injuries and if not treated early, can cause severe problems in later years. There is nothing macho about training through a sprain or strain-any coach who says this is very irresponsible, ignorant, demonstrating an extreme lack of anatomical knowledge, and should be avoided at all costs.
With most injuries, we can usually shrug them off when we are young and fit and think nothing of it, until one day in our mid-forties or early fifties, WHAM, we fall to the floor with a total rupture of the cruciate ligament or Achilles tendon and wonder how the hell this came about. Most times, if their injury history is analyzed fully, premature returns to training after injury are usually the culprit.
I trust this article will shed some light on a serious aspect of injury occurrence and rehabilitation, and as always, I welcome correspondence from the readership, via the magazine.
Strains: These involve musculotendinous units and may include muscle, tendon, and the junction between the two, as well as their attachments to bone. Strains or pulls can occur in ju-jitsu through over-stretching in the warm-up and cool-down phase and throwing a heavier partner than usual. They are usually dynamic and the athletes generally injure themselves.
A mild strain (first-degree) involves stretching and a minimal amount of tearing. Although there is mild discomfort, there is little or no disability. Athletes require minimal protection upon return to the mats, in the form of elastic supports, for example. Many tend to train through these strains, and will not report them until symptoms become more severe.
A moderate (second-degree) strain involves significant tearing of the muscle fibers, with some continuity of the musculotendinous unit remaining. Some continue training and then experience pain and disability the day after. There are variable degrees of pain, swelling, loss of strength, and flexibility. Athletes need rest and a gradual return to ju-jitsu. Protection and support can be given when they return to the mats.
A severe (third-degree) strain involves the destruction of the musculotendinous unit, causing joint instability. The athlete usually hears a snap and the muscles usually bunch up, due to the spasmodic contractions. R.I.C.E. should be applied before referring them to a physician for further treatment.
Complete rest, plus a gradual return within tolerable limits are needed to avoid a recurrence of the injury. Skill practices should be re-assessed and broken down to look for any mistakes.
Sprains: A sprain is an injury involving a ligament, and these are most common in ju-jitsu. They arise for poorly executed break-falls and overly eager locks (juji-gatame). The lower grades (white – blue) tend to withstand the worst of these injuries, but now and again, the higher grades will fall prey to sprains.
They usually occur when a Dan grade (black belt) attempts a new and challenging throw, such as the spectacular Tomoenage (stomach throw). The thrower places his foot in the opponent’s stomach and quickly drops to the floor and the opponent is thrown overhead and the break-fall is a heavy one even when done correctly.
It only takes a split-second mistake in the air to produce quite serious injuries; hence, high skill levels are needed for this throw.
A mild sprain does not usually immobilize the athlete enough to stop them from training. Minor stretching of the ligaments is experienced.
A moderate sprain involves the tearing of the ligament fibers and a partial break of the structures. This is the most common degree that is experienced by club members and is the most difficult to diagnose by the trainer.
Pain, swelling, and instability are all felt to varying degrees. Protection is vital to keep the fibers immobile and close together to promote efficient repair.
If the injured ligaments are repeatedly stressed and re-injured during this healing process, they will heal in a weakened state, resulting in an unstable joint. Protection must be given, such as a cast, brace, splint, or tape. Ligaments heal like scar tissue and take 6 weeks to develop plus an additional six months to mature and gain maximum strength.
Severe strains involve total rupture and a break in the continuity of the ligament, which may cause the ligament to pull a loose piece of bone, causing an avulsion fracture. The athlete usually hears a snap at this point. These injuries should be splinted and the athlete should be referred to a hospital for X-rays and further diagnosis. Surgical repair may be needed. Rehabilitation can begin after receiving a letter of consent from their GP.
When to refer the athlete
- Gross deformity.
- Suspected fracture and dislocation.
- Significant swelling.
- Joint instability.
- Significant loss of motion in the area.
- Suspected mal-alignment.
- Structural abnormalities.
- Total lack of sensory function.
- Decreased circulation and motor function.
- Any doubt regarding the severity or nature of the injury.
I now hope that the reader will read this article, absorb its content and use common sense the next time they injure themselves.