Combat sports injuries

Semi-contact and contact sports evolved from a variety of self-defense systems, which had one goal: to defeat the opponent as quickly as possible. And although the sports regulations exclude the most effective techniques that can really cause serious harm to health, tragedies still happen.

For example, in the USSR in 1982, more than 30 people were killed in karate competitions . Among the highly technical karatekas in Japan, the “average loss” is 5 deaths per year.

The most common injuries are:

• injuries during training, during sparring with a partner – 32%;

• Injuries at competitions caused by an opponent – 33%;

• accidental injuries from falls – 9%;

• defects in material and technical support (lack of equipment or its low quality) – 7%;

• referee errors, violations of the rules of the fight – 6%;

• domestic injuries, street fights – 13%.

In an effort to quickly get in shape, novice athletes train excessively actively, not counting their strengths, which is why they sometimes get injured even more severe than in competitions.

It is encouraging that most of the injuries are mild: bruises, sprains. Injuries of moderate severity account for about 35% and severe injuries for about 14%.

Injury statistics

Certain types of martial arts have their own specificity, technique:

• in Thai boxing , blows with knees, legs, elbows are common;

• hands are used more in classical karate ;

• kickboxing is considered to be the most traumatic type of combat sports, the reason is seen in a wide range of permissible contacts;

• in boxing you must not kick;

• sports taekwondo prohibits hitting the head;

• there are no strikes at all in judo , which makes this technique the least traumatic;

Therefore, it is impossible to say which injuries are most common in combat sports in general. Let’s consider the most popular ones.

Kickboxing injuries

Kickboxing is a full-contact combat sport that is characterized by both punches and kicks from a standing position.

The average injury rate is 39.7 per 1000 minutes of fights. Typical localization of injuries:

• head – 23%;

• the belt of the upper extremities (hands and forearms, elbows, shoulders) – 5%;

• trunk (chest, abdomen) – 3.5%;

• the belt of the lower extremities (legs, knees, feet) – 13.5%;

• without specified localization – 48%.

The structure of injuries is dominated by sprains and ruptures of ligaments, fractures and dislocations.

Muay Thai injuries

Despite the apparent “murderousness” of sports fights, Thai boxing is inferior to kickboxing in terms of injury risk (although their technique is similar in many respects).

In Thai boxing, the most commonly affected are:

• shins;

• head and neck;

• hips;

• feet;

• nose.

In the structure of injuries, bruises, contusions and dissections predominate. Moreover, it is interesting that leg injuries and sprains are typical for beginners. Experienced athletes are more likely to suffer from bruises, and the most vulnerable part of the body is the head.

Judo and Sambo

The difference between these styles of single combats is the prevalence of wrestling technique, more attention is paid to throws, grabs, painful holds. This specificity is reflected in the statistics of injuries:

• leverage – 46%;

• elbow joint – 18%;

• wrist joint, hand and fingers – 14%;

• forearm – 15%;

• knees – 10%;

• shins – 9%;

• feet and hips – 12% each, respectively;

• ankles – 4%.

This sport is characterized by getting several injuries in one fight at once. For example, there is a combination of injuries to the upper and lower extremities in an athlete at the same time, which is explained precisely by the throwing technique.

Neurological injuries of contact types of martial arts

Concussions of the brain come first, and the peripheral nervous system is also affected.

Neurological injuries are “acute” or chronic.

“Acute” damage to the central nervous system

The most common “acute” ones include concussions, subdural hematomas, and skull fractures. Particularly dangerous are knockout blows to the chin from below, to the temple, to the back of the head, from the side to the lower jaw.

In addition to the fractures of the jaw and skull themselves, the nervous tissue of the brain also suffers: hydrodynamic injuries, microstrokes, hemorrhages, focal death of neurons.

Accumulating over a relatively long period of time (months, years), microtraumas at some critical moment give pronounced neurological symptoms, which can cause disability or even death of an athlete.

Often the fighters themselves do not sense the impending danger. Therefore, after hard fights, they will not be hurt by an examination of the brain for early detection of organic changes.

The second most frequent acute trauma (after concussions) is the formation of subdural hematomas. Children are at risk here. The problem is that it can be difficult to recognize such damage early in the competition. The training and professionalism of the referee has a great influence here.

Cases of ischemic strokes, embolization of large vessels are described as isolated cases.

Chronic lesions of the central nervous system

Associated with repeated brain injury. As a result, athletes develop neurological diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.

Interestingly, chronic brain damage is common in boxing, despite being protected by gloves and a helmet. Athletes involved in other martial arts suffer from this pathology much less often. They are more likely to deal with spinal cord problems and peripheral neuropathies.

The medical literature describes cases of the development and progression of intervertebral hernias of the cervical spine with severe myelo and radiculopathy in people practicing judo.

Also mentioned are disorders of cerebral circulation from the vertebral arteries.

Peripheral Nervous System Injuries

The most commonly affected:

• solar plexus – stroke is accompanied by respiratory distress, bradycardia;

• external carotid arteries – a blow to the area of ​​the carotid sinus leads to impaired blood circulation in the brain on the corresponding side, in the most severe cases, cardiac arrest occurs;

• plexuses in the armpits are covered only by the skin, any blow leads to paralysis of the corresponding arm due to trauma to the nerve trunks.

To a lesser extent, nerves in vulnerable points on the upper and lower extremities are affected. But a strong blow or painful reception to these places can also cause serious neurological problems.


Despite the aggressiveness, contact types of combat sports in terms of injury risk are not even included in the top ten.

Thanks to a well-thought-out optimal training system, a responsible attitude of athletes to themselves and to their opponents, the development of technical skill, most of the injuries described above can be avoided.

But two problems remain that cannot be effectively addressed:

1. Accumulation of the consequences of chronic minor injuries, especially from the side of the brain.

2. Accidents, accidents.

You can always seek help in the treatment of sports injuries at our clinic.

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