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Common Injuries in Martial Arts and How to Defend Your Child Against Them

Jun 21, 2018
image of two boys and a girl in karate stance

Self-control may not be the first thing that comes to mind when someone says martial arts. However, self-control is the first lesson many students learn. Martial arts is about being able to control your thoughts and actions in any situation and only using physical force as a last resort. 

Martial arts can help your child gain confidence, focus, and coordination while being physically active. It encompasses a variety of disciplines, including: Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, Judo, and Thai Chi.

Common Injuries

Like all sports, injuries can happen while practicing martial arts.

Bruises (contusions) can occur while practicing punches or kicks and using too much force to make contact with a pad or person.  Scrapes are more likely to occur from other opponent’s nails or being pulled down, similar to wrestling. 

Wounds should ALWAYS be cleaned thoroughly and covered for activity to decrease the chance of infection. While ligament injuries (sprains), muscle injuries (strains), and fractures (breaks of bone) can occur anywhere in the body, they are most common in the lower body at the ankles, knees, thighs, and toes. Lower body injuries are most likely to happen when landing a jump or kick incorrectly, kicking too high and with too much power, and with poor form. 

In the upper body, elbows, wrist, and fingers are the most common areas to be injured. Landing punches or blocking with poor technique makes these injuries more likely. Concussions are also a risk while participating in martial arts. These brain injuries happen while sparring and contact is made with the head by a punch or kick. Concussions can also occur when the person is thrown and makes contact with the ground or mat.  

Defending Against Injuries

Prevention is the best way to stop an injury from occurring. Many things can affect the likelihood of an injury happening and include the following factors:

Instructor: Just like a coach, the instructor sets the tone of the class. His or her philosophy and experience will determine what your child’s class instruction will look like. The instructor ensures all students use appropriate technique during any sparring.

Environment: All mats, pads, dummies and flooring should be well-maintained. Any elevated or uneven flooring should be marked or outlined. There should be enough room between students that they are not able to touch or collide with each other while practicing.

Protective Equipment: All students should wear the appropriate uniform (gi). It is designed to allow plenty of motion while protecting the skin. When able, and when rules allow, students should wear mouth guards, shin and foot guards, headgear, forearm pads and chest protectors. Wearing the proper protective equipment will help reduce the likelihood of injuries and missing classes, practice and competitions due to injury.

Self-Preparation: Just like any other sport or activity, participants need to perform a warm up, cool down and stretching. The student needs to be hydrated, get plenty sleep and have a well-balanced diet. He or she also needs to be aware of their surroundings and in control of their practice.

Lessons Learned

In the end, you need to choose a martial arts style and instructor that is right for your child. While injuries are a possibility for any activity, making class safe for everyone involved and coming prepared can decrease those risks. While physical gains in muscle strength and flexibility, coordination, and balance are commonly seen - it may be the increases in development of self-esteem, self-respect, and self-control that have the greatest impact long term.

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Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Ashley Minnick, MSAH, AT, ATC
Sports Medicine

Ashley E. Minnick, MSAH, AT, ATC, received her bachelor's of science in education from Wright State University. Currently, Ashley is an athletic trainer at New Albany High School. She is also involved in the pediatric sports medicine athletic training internship program at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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