Staying Safe and Avoiding Injury in Combat Training

Injuries are a common thing in all sports, but they can be particularly nasty in combat sports like MMA and Muay Thai – although, you can say the same thing about any other contact martial art. Unfortunately, your instructor can’t be everywhere at once which means you have to do as much as you possibly can to keep yourself safe.

With that in mind, in this article, we’re going to be looking at some of the ways you can keep yourself safe while training. To do this, we’ll break down some common injuries – what they are, how they happen, etc. and then talk about how to avoid them. Sound good? Great! Let’s go!

Some Common Injuries

  • Cuts and Bruises
  • Head Injuries
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations

A Good Rule of Thumb

A good rule of thumb when it comes to training – and this is true in all sports – is to train smart, not hard. Don’t train beyond your physical limits. Develop a routine, and make sure you have a good foundation to work with and train in moderation so that you don’t overdo it.

Stay hydrated at all times and ask for help if and/or when you need it. Your ego can cause serious problems, you can get seriously hurt.

Protective Gear

The best way to avoid an injury in training is to wear the correct protective gear.

Safety gear allows a student to maximize their potential, by somewhat mitigating the risk of injury – to both participants. To be clear, it doesn’t erase the risk of injury; it just reduces the odds of you getting SERIOUSLY injured. So, competitors typically use including:

  • Headgear
  • Chest guards
  • Gloves and Wraps
  • Shin guards
  • Groin guards
  • Footwear
  • Face shields

Head Gear

A leather-covered foam helmet, headgear is mandatory when it comes to martial arts sparring sessions. This is due to how serious a head injury is or can be.

Chest Guard

Not that commonly used, but chest guards are meant to protect the ribs and stomach. Blows to these areas are painful and can do some serious damage – a broken rib isn’t something to joke about. Some chest guards also have padding around the sides to keep the liver relatively safe.

Gloves and Wraps

Okay, so let’s talk about gloves for a minute. They’re typically made of foam – much like with headgear and chest guards – and covered in a type of leather. There are two types of gloves that are typically used. The MMA-style gloves are open-fingered gloves that allow you to open and close your hand somewhat freely, making grappling-oriented takedowns and chokes possible. Boxing gloves are…well…boxing gloves. They’re typically closed and meant specifically for striking – meaning your hand is restricted as far as movement goes.

Unfortunately, when striking with either type of gloves, injuries to the wrist are common – especially when working on a heavy bag. These can also be caused by bad technique or poor quality gear.

How do we get around that problem? Well, by wrapping our wrists, to add extra support to their joints. Ideally, you want around 5+ meters of wrapping.

Shin Guards

Shin guards are meant to protect the shins from injury. Occasionally in sparring, you’ll be throwing kicks, and you’ll accidentally connect with your shins instead, or hit the opponent’s elbow. This is incredibly painful and can occasionally cause a fracture – which is obviously a big problem. Proper shin guards are a must for Muay Thai, Kickboxing and Taekwondo, as they can reduce the pain and risk of fractures.

Groin Guards

Groin guards…this is one of the most important pieces of gear that you, as a martial artist, can have and is mandatory for sparring – both in practice and in competitions. The idea is, obviously, to protect your groin from severe injuries; there are protectors for both men and women.

Face Shields and Mouth Guards

A face shield is not very common, but in some combat sports it is used, especially for children. It is typically a plastic visor that’s strapped to your headgear to protect your face from injury. Considering how serious facial injuries can be, it’s no surprise that many training centres have introduced face shields to their sparring gear. Of course, another way to protect your face from injury is to keep your guard up while sparring.

But a mandatory piece of sparring gear in every combat sports is your mouthguard. Dislocations and fractures of the jaw are nasty, but you don’t want your teeth getting caught in the proverbial crossfire and being broken. You also don’t want to take a blow to the face and end up biting your lip or your tongue; they’re going to be painful, bloody injuries which can get quite…messy.

The Injuries that you Should Worry About

Cuts and Bruises

Cuts and bruises are something that you should be prepared for because getting them is a serious possibility. Punches, elbows, and kicks can all cause lacerations and, of course, you’re getting bruised regardless of what’s hitting you. Treatment depends on the severity; bruises will typically go away on their own, but you can ice the area to relieve the pain. Some cuts can be treated with a bit of antiseptic and a band-aid, others may require a trip to the hospital.

Groin Injuries

Groin injuries are very painful and very, very serious. There are many, very many nerve endings down there which is why they’re so painful and they can cause serious reproductive issues. Some injuries that you can suffer include testicular torsion (if you’re a guy). This is where the spermatic cord spins on itself and cuts off the blood circulation to the testicle and, if it’s not treated urgently, leads to the death of the testicle.

Facial Injuries

Common in a lot of combat sports, facial injuries can be painful and have some rather unpleasant effects on an athlete. Fractures of the cheek, nose, jaw, and orbital bones are painful and can result in sight and speech issues as well as eating problems. You can also break or shatter teeth which are going to require some serious repair work and braces to fix.

In order to prevent facial injuries some training centers have introduced face shields as part of their sparring equipment.

Head Injuries

Head injuries are a serious problem and should never be taken lightly. There are several different injuries that a student can get. Okay, so what does it feel like to get hit or kicked in the head? In short, it’s unpleasant. A headshot is painful and commonly causes a concussion resulting in dizziness, disorientation, and, of course, a nasty headache.

So, how do we prevent a head injury? Well, the best way is to keep your guard up in sparring and not get hit at all but that’s not really possible – feints are a thing, after all. Sometimes you’ll drop your hands to deflect or catch something and get whacked on the head for your trouble. You can also wear the appropriate headgear to reduce the effect of the blow.

I Get a Hard Blow to My Head; What Do I Do?

What should you do if you get a hard hit to the noggin? Well, for starters, stop sparring and you’re still able to think straight and function. Make sure you take a minute or so to shake off the disorientation and regain your bearings then sit down for a bit and catch your breath. This is especially something to do if you were knocked out cold for a bit.

Another thing you should do is take a COLD shower. Warm water will make you drowsy which, if you’ve got a serious head injury, is a very bad thing. Cold water, on the other hand, will be a bit of a shock to the system and wake you up in a hurry. Remember that while light blows and minor headaches can be slept off, a harder hit and/or prolonged pain should be checked out by a medical professional.

It’s also a good idea to avoid sparring, if possible, for a week or two just to give your body a chance to recover.

Liver Shots

Liver shots are incredibly painful and can cause a knockout but aren’t usually too serious. Pain actually doesn’t come from the liver, but a forceful blow to the liver can stimulate the vagus nerve that runs near the liver, leading to a vagal response. This can result in a drop in heart rate, blood pressure, and may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, or even fainting.

These types of injuries often result in a TKO, a technical knockout, which is when you can’t adequately defend yourself in the fight thus rendering it an unfair fight and granting your opponent victory. There are instances of an actual knockout by liver shot, again it’s a shock to the system, your body may need to, for lack of a better descriptor, reset itself.

Fractures and Dislocations

Fractures and dislocations are also something that you should be wary of, and not just because they’re excruciatingly painful.

Breaking a bone is going to hurt and it’s going to put you out of commission until the fracture has healed properly. How do fractures occur? Well, as durable as your bones are, there are a few that are more fragile (particularly the ones in your hands and feet). Wrist fractures are particularly common and typically occur while working on a heavy bag when there’s a lack of support for the wrist.

How do you prevent this? Well, athletes usually wrap their wrists and ankles to provide some extra support.

Dislocations – injuries that see the joint pop out of place. These are incredibly painful and ideally should be treated by a medical professional – if the joints aren’t put back in properly, you’re going to end up with serious long-term damage. Common dislocations happen in the wrist, ankle, knees, and shoulders.

At the end of the day, your health is the most important thing to consider. You can’t train effectively if your body’s not working properly.

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