19 Common Injuries in Combative Sports
Combative Sports Injuries
Combative sports are more popular than ever and even account for a quarter of the Olympic games. Because o f their growing popularity, combative sports have become well known for their high risk of injury, injuries that can take place during training or competition, and even with or without protective equipment.
And since these combative sports almost always involve striking, throwing, or trying to immobilize an opponent, there are those who believe them to be more dangerous than other sports. But what are the common injuries that competitors suffer from? As a martial artist, this was something important I needed to find out because I’ve also suffered from injury.
What are the common injuries committed in combative sports? The most frequent types of common injuries are concussions, fractures, sprains, strains, and bruises as they have the greatest number of occurrences but will differ according to sports style. The key regions for injury are commonly found in the head, neck, shoulders, wrists, hands and fingers, knees, ankles, and feet and toes.
There’s something else to consider as a major influence for potential injury and that’s the rules put in place for the various types of combat fighting styles. These rules control many aspects of a UFC MMA fight match. You’ll probably want to consider thinking about the following MMA UFC martial arts rules when it comes to choosing a combative sports style:
What regions of the body are legal to attack and which are not? Which combative sports require you to wear protective gear? Is a fight match scored or do you have to immobilize your opponent?
These are important questions because they definitely have an impact on the risk of injury and as such, these rules can also have an effect on the amount of force you use to inflict punishment on your opponent.
Before I begin, you can check out the study conducted on the types of injuries suffered in six different combative sports styles.
Injuries Among Six Combative Sports
The following helpful charts show the results of a study conducted by the School of Medical and Applied Sciences in Central Queensland University Australia for the most common types of injuries among six combative sports. Check out the study here at their URL: https://researchers.mq.edu.au/en/publications/epidemiology-of-injuries-in-full-contact-combat-sports.
Figure 1. Combative sports by most common types of injuries.
Figure 2. Of the six combative sports, two showed the lower & upper limbs to be the most common injured regions.
As you can see, depending on the type of combat sport, injuries will vary and so will the region of injury. Let’s start off with the head and neck region of the body because it is your base of operation.
The Most Common Head and Neck Injuries for an MMA Fighter
You’ve most likely watched an MMA UFC fight and noticed that they don’t wear any protective headgear, and I believe that’s one of the reasons that makes UFC’s Octagon is that much more exciting, but it consequently also leaves the ultimate championship fighters open to head injuries.
Below you’ll find more on the study conducted by the University of Australia on how many concussions and fractures are suffered by these combative sports fighters.
Figure 3-1. Combative sports findings for the number of concussions and fractures.
Here’s another helpful chart for the fighting sport types that produced the highest number of common head and neck injuries.
Figure 3-2. Of the six combative sports studied, results for three showed the head and neck are the most common injured regions.
The numbers in the study speak for themselves, these are intense sports. Even though many fighters still end up with injuries during training and in competition, to keep things from going overboard there are blows that a combat fighter is just not allowed to use.
The following is a list of illegal blows that the UFC MMA fighters are not allowed to use on the head, neck, and face:
- The ‘twelve to six’ elbow or downward elbow strike.
- A Blow to the top of the head
- A Blow to the back of the head and neck
Even though these types of hits are illegal, an MMA fighter still has other types of head and neck hits at his disposal that can lead to serious head injuries. That’s why it’s very important to know when you’ve suffered from a concussion because if you continue fighting with one, there’s a high possibility of you getting permanent brain damage.
Can you get brain damage from MMA? According to current research being done on boxing and MMA fighters, results show that the longer they stay in the ring, the higher the risk of serious brain damage.
Damage to the brain can lead to the following difficulties, this list is not all inclusive:
- Irritability and memory loss
- Problems with movement
- Problems with speech
- Emotional problems
- Behavioral problems
Also, if you’ve suffered from a previous concussion and returned to fighting in an MMA match and get another concussion, you’re more likely to suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) because of the repetitive blows to your head.
CTE is a degenerative brain disease and it’s nothing to play with. Just check out the football players and professional wrestlers who’ve suffered from it, it’s well known among those athletes.
The CTE disease has been known to lead to dementia over time and most documented cases are among athletes competing in combative sports, such as boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, and Muay Thai.
If you’re into Muay Thai, give this article some attention and lower you risk of injury: What Gear Do I Need For Muay Thai?
What are the symptoms you should look for when checking for CTE?
The Symptoms of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy are Four Stages.
- Stage 1 → headaches, loss of concentration, and possibly aggression or depression
- Stage 2 → mood swings, depression, increased memory loss, and speech impediment
- Stage 3 → cognitive dysfunction, severe memory loss, increased aggressiveness, and apathy
- Stage 4 → full-blown dementia, complete memory loss, visual spatial difficulty, explosivity, and may have Parkinsonism
There’s something else I found that was interesting and it’s that the actual word dementia comes from the Latin word ‘dementia pugilistic’ which means ‘fist-fighter’s dementia’. So it’s been around for a while and it’s been in the combative sports arena.
It’d be common sense to assume that the other types of combative sports injuries also have roots dating back in history and so I’ll start covering the rest of the common injuries fighters suffer from in more detail, working down along the body starting with the upper limbs and finally to the lower limbs.
The Two Most Common Combative Sports Injuries to the Shoulders and How they Occur
Did you ever think that by just throwing repetitive punches during training could lead to injuries to your shoulder muscles, ligaments, and tendons? It’s true, as you’ll soon find out below in the two types of shoulder injuries.
Before I discuss the two common combative sports, have you ever thought about what might happen if you are injured during your training and you try to tune it out or play through it? That’d be a bad move, because what may happen is you could end up deteriorating your muscle tissues causing yourself to weaken even further and probably impairing normal functions.
- The condition called Instability results when your shoulder joint is forced out of its normal position. You will recognize it because of the pain of raising your arm. You can also tell you may have this condition if you feel as if your shoulder is slipping out of place.
- The condition called Impingement results from overuse or excessive rubbing of your rotatory cuff shoulder muscles and tendons against the acromion (the top part of your shoulder blade). You can recognize the sudden pain because it occurs during excessive training because you’ll be doing a lot of overhead or backward arm movement that causes the bursa (space) between the rotatory cuff and acromion to narrow, increasing pressure. For a better mental visual, think of swimmer’s and baseball player’s arm movements.
Other symptoms include:
- Pain from the front of your shoulder to the side of your arm
- Constant minor pain in the arm
- Pain worsens at night
- Weakness in your shoulders or arms
- Not sleeping well
- Difficulty combing your hair
Wrist Injuries that are Especially Common Among Mixed Martial Arts Fighters
Wrist sprains result from stretched or torn ligaments. These sprains can happen instantly, they don’t develop over time and range from minor tears to complete ruptures. You can suffer from a sprained wrist if you were to try to break a fall with your hand, wrist, or by overextending your wrist.
Wrist fractures are severe injuries that result due to a force greater than the bone can handle on impact. The wrists are made up of many small bones and you’re actively using them, thus increasing your risk of injury.
Tendonitis in the wrist is a chronic injury caused by repetitive movements that develops over time rather than in one moment and can be very painful, and is a serious condition in which you may need a long time to recover from. If you’re suffering from tendonitis, you’ll notice the symptoms will reveal themselves in the form of tenderness and inflammation.
The Combative Sports Boxer’s Fracture, the Most Common Hand Injury
The most common hand injury is the boxer’s fracture which is the bone connecting the little finger to the wrist, this injury can develop during sparring or even by consistently hitting a stationary object. The boxer’s fracture is a break that occurs in the metacarpal which is the long bone in the hand.
If you use bad form while punching, the force of your impacts will travel through your fourth and fifth knuckles causing the bones in your hands to buckle and fracture, instead of going through your second and third knuckles allowing an even distribution of force across your hands, wrists, and arms.
The Dislocation of the Proximal Interphalangeal (PIP) Joint in the Hands
The dislocation of the Proximal Interphalangeal (PIP) Joint is a common injury found in the joint above the knuckle. This is caused when the finger is forced backwards or forwards into a bent position.
You can visibly see the displacement of a dislocated finger or joint and depending on how bad it is, you may need anesthesia or surgery to put the finger or joint back in place.
The Most Common Injuries to the Lower Limbs and How they Occur
Many mixed martial artists are expected to suffer from injuries during training or MMA competition. Just as you’d expect them to receive cuts and lacerations, you should expect that the lower limbs are not immune and that they’re also susceptible to injury just as the upper body.
Due to the many styles of combative sports, you’ll find that they’re techniques and intensity will differ. Because of this fact, you should know that your knee joints will go through a lot of stress and give rise to the most common injuries you see in an MMA fight which include the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, patella dislocation, and the meniscus tear.
If you were to grapple or try an MMA maneuver, it’s normal for the knee joint to be twisted or forced into weird positions that’ll hurt you like crazy causing you to suffer one of these knee injuries.
It’s also a high possibility that you can suffer these injuries by simply over training for long hours while preparing for your actual MMA match. Injuries during training have put a stop to matches for many fighters.
A good example of a mixed martial arts technique that can lead to these types of MMA injuries is a submission called the heel hook, a Jujitsu move that was once considered forbidden, is now popular among fighters because of its effectiveness to win.
To do a heel hook you have to control your opponent’s leg and force it into an angle to create a lever-like hold. The name of the submission called the heel hook isn’t really about the heel because the focus is actually to apply pressure on your opponent’s knee during this leg-lock and if correctly carried out, your opponent has less than a second to tap-out or suffer a knee injury.
MMA ACL Tear Knee Injury
The most common injury in the knee is the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) making it one of the top injuries suffered by fighters. The ACLU job is to provide support to your shin bone to keep it from moving out of place and to prevent it from ending up in front of your thigh bone.
A way in which an ACL tear can happen is if you suddenly stop or change directions so quickly that it causes your knee to buckle and shift, and of course let’s not forget that you can also suffer this injury by receiving a blow from your opponent to the joint itself.
MMA Meniscus Tear Knee Injury
In your knee is a piece of cartilage called the meniscus, that works like a shock absorber found between your shin and thigh bones. This wedge-shaped piece of cartilage can be torn and injured by performing moves like a kick but you end up landing incorrectly or can be done by squatting and twisting your knee, and again by getting hit.
MMA Patella Dislocation Knee Injury
The patella is your kneecap and it’s made to move vertically within the patellofemoral groove. You can have an MMA patella dislocation if you were to pivot your thigh bone internally while your foot is stationary and while your knee is bending. Just like the other knee tears, it can be dislocated from being directly hit.
The Most Common Ankle Injury For MMA Fighters is the Anterior Talo-Fibular Ligament (ATFL)
The Anterior Talo-Fibular Ligament (ATFL) is a short ligament on your ankle, and its purpose is to resist inversion and plantar flexion. In order for your ankle to remain stable, its joint depends on your shin bones to keep its bones in place as you use your foot to move. Your ankle is most stable when it’s flat on the ground or when it’s pulled back towards you.
The ATFL accounts for around 85 percent of all ankle injuries. Chronic instability is said to affect 40 to 60 percent of those injured.
So when is it at its weakest? It’s when you point your foot and toes forward away from your leg.
For an unstable position during inversion, imagine a basketball player landing on another player’s foot.
For an unstable position during plantar flexion, you can think of standing on your toes or pointing your toes away from you, a forward movement.
The same thing happens when you go for a round kick using bad technique or when applying an ankle lock, the area becomes weak due to the increased distance created between your shin and calf bones. Because of this, your ankle is now looking to your ligaments to maintain stability and as you know, bones are stronger than ligaments, leaving you exposed to injury.
ATFL Injury Categories:
- Low → An overstretched ligament
- Medium → A partial tear
- High → A complete rupture
Ankle Sprains in Combative Sports
The ankle sprain is a very common injury in combative sports. The reason the ankle sprain is so common is that no matter what combative style you are involved in, your ankle joint is what bears all your body weight as you move through a wide range of kicks, punches, throws, and shuffles and lunges.
The way an MMA fighter sprain occurs is when the foot is ‘turned under’ and you place all your weight on the outer edge of your foot, causing stretching and tearing of your ankle ligaments which hold your bones together.
To get an idea of how you could easily suffer from this ankle sprain, imagine performing a break-fall as you heel kick the floor, or by twisting your leg on another foot that’s planted on the ground.
To make things a bit clearer, whatever caused you to have a sprain, can also break your bones and chip the cartilage in your foot as well as your ankle and lower leg.
What are the three types of Ankle Sprains?
- The first is a very mild strain of the ligaments without any tearing occurring
- The second is a moderate sprain causing discomfort
- The third is a severe sprain with aches and pain
The Most Common Feet and Toes Injuries
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found that out of every four injuries, one happens in the foot or ankle.
The most common foot injury is plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tendons supporting the bottom of the foot. This injury is from being barefoot and not wearing anything that supports your foot’s arch.
When you’re carrying out techniques that involve jumping and pivoting, the ball of your foot is strained, causing you pain and inflammation. You can even feel the pain when you’re standing or walking around.
MMA Combative Sports Grappler’s Toe and Foot Trauma Injuries
Practitioners of MMA grappling are at risk for blunt trauma injuries to the toes and feet when they’re not using protective footwear.
In judo you can even suffer a fracture from something as unexpected as your toes getting caught and snarled up in your opponent’s martial arts uniform or during training when you foot-strike your opponent’s elbow in a kicking drill.
The Martial Artist’s Turf Toe Injury
The turf toe is a very common injury and unique to martial artists who train in take-downs. It’s when your big toe joint gets sprained from severe bending during training on gymnastic style mats. These mats create a snagging action in the mat’s vinyl surface causing your toes to severely bend out of normal position.
Imagine the extra bending of your toes and the accompanying pain as you drop to one knee after performing a throw and all the force behind it.
Another thing for you to beware of are the gaps that exist between these mats because even they will cause you this injury.
The Fractures in the Bones of the Feet and Toes
A Fracture is a break in the bones of your feet and toes, and happens during severe impacts. It’s similar to an ankle injury because your broken foot or toe will look like a bad sprain due to the swelling and pain. The location of the fracture can be found where your toes and foot connect.
MMA Toenail Avulsions
A toenail avulsion is when your nail is ripped off or when you get a blood bruise under your nail, and is mostly from direct or deflected nail hits. They’re just like a fracture and are prone to injury if you’re not wearing protective foot-gear.
MMA Tendon sheath trauma
A tendon sheath is when the tendons found on the top of your foot bones are squeezed, causing you to have rapid swelling and difficulty walking, along with great pain. There are certain combative sports styles that teach how to condition this area but this is considered harder to do than if you were to condition the skin over your shin.
Trauma to the tendon sheath can be caused by a kick to the elbow or an equipment buckle can also make this happen.The best thing to do is invest in protective gear and work on delivering a better kick because it’s better for the long run, you really don’t want to be out because of weeks of recuperation.
If you are experiencing any of these common injuries in training or in a competition, it would be a good idea to see your doctor immediately because many sports injuries could lead to something more serious.
This concludes this study on common combat sports injuries
The study that I examined is applicable to any combative sports and offers some helpful insight as to the most common injuries committed in combative sports. Commonly found injuries are concussions, fractures, sprains and strains, and bruises in athletes according to them being involved with a variety of competitive sports: boxing, martial arts, wrestling, football, all styles of fencing, certain domestic martial arts like Jiu Jitsu or MMA on fight night events.
The truth of the matter is that all sports could lead you to some type of injury, but the love for the sport amongst us seems to be greater.
I hope this blog post has been a useful resource in proactively informing those who are partaking in these activities about common injuries in combative sports.
Play safe and train even safer!
What are the different common combative sports? Common combat sports are many styles which include armed and unarmed combat. The main types are wrestling, boxing, grappling, fencing, and martial arts. Here is a list of some common MMA sports.
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Muay Thai
- Brazilian jujitsu
- Pradal serey
- Krav maga
- Vale tudo
What are the 6 most common combative sports injuries? The six most common sports injuries are:
- Shoulder injuries
- Knee sprains
- Ankle sprains
- ACL tear
What is the most dangerous combative sport? The most dangerous combat sport is the most effective and most practical in application. Many practitioners boast that their style or system is the best, but the actual truth is that they all have strengths and weaknesses. There is no real answer to that question because you can use one combat sport to counter another and this is one of the top reasons why MMA has become very popular since it incorporates multiple disciplines.