Full-contact professional fighters try to inflict punishment by landing blows to the head and upper body. No or light-contact fighters have a different goal. They try to outscore their opponents with a minimum of injuries. They use fighting as a way to improve their conditioning and coordination. As a safety precaution, they use protective equipment to soften the force of blows and their fights have shorter rounds. Limiting the length of rounds and the number of rounds reduces the effect of fatigue on the fighter. Many injuries occur late in fights, so shorter fights are much safer. Despite these precautions, injuries may still occur:
A knockout is, by definition, a concussion. A fighter who is "out on his feet" has suffered a concussion. If you have been knocked out, you should be examined carefully by a neurologist. A professional boxer who has been knocked out is required to wait three to six months, depending on where the fight took place, before he can fight again.
Cumulative head trauma is another problem. Repeated blows to the head can cause the brain to rock against the side of the skull. This kills brain cells due to bleeding in the brain and leads to small areas of scarring. The result is the "punch-drunk" syndrome, where the fighter's loss of brain tissue is sufficient to interfere with his mental function. Most professional boxers who have fought more than 50 times, even though they may show no outward signs of brain damage, have inhibited thinking ability and may suffer from headaches, blurred vision, or memory loss.
The most severe head injury is a brain hemorrhage from a violent blow to the head, which can result in paralysis or death. However, this type of injury is rare for those who wear head protection.
Cauliflower Ear and Broken Eardrum
Without head protection, a blow to the ear may cause bleeding in the outer ear. If it is not drained by a doctor, the blood may form a hard mass, resulting in what is called a cauliflower ear.
The pressure of a fist against an exposed ear may also rupture an eardrum. If you have problems with your hearing, see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Once your eardrum has been punctured, hearing loss will occur. However, over time and with no further injury, the eardrum itself may heal.
A muscle can tear from rapid deceleration as a blow lands against an opponent's body. An arm may stop more suddenly than the shoulder and tear the shoulder muscles or the rotator cuff muscles inside the shoulder joint. Hips, knees, and elbows are also susceptible to injury.
Treat a joint injury by resting and icing it until the pain disappears.. Then stretch and strengthen the muscle as it heals.
Runner's knee is common in the martial arts because of the characteristic bent-knee stance and rapid, forceful kicks. The proper treatment is to correct the foot position to ease the stress on the knee. The problem is that most martial arts are done barefoot. Wearing an arch or orthodontic in your shoe in daily life will allow your knee pain to subside so that you can function on the mat without a shoe.
Separated or Broken Ribs
Rib separations are fairly common among full-contact fighters. The front end of the rib is connected to the breastbone by a piece of cartilage, and this cartilage can be torn from a sharp blow or series of blows to the rib.
A rib may break from a hard blow. This injury is more dangerous than a separated rib because the broken rib may become displaced and puncture a lung.
Rib injuries are treated with rest (about six weeks) and a rib belt.
The spleen is under the left rib cage. A soft organ, it is prone to injury from a sharp strike, such as an uppercut to the left ribs.
A ruptured spleen bleeds profusely and may cause death if it is not removed rapidly and the bleeding stopped. If it is at all damaged, the spleen must be removed. Since the spleen has no vital function, it is possible to live without one.
Even if it does not rupture immediately, a spleen that is bruised by a light blow during sparring may rupture later. Therefore, any spleen injury must be examined by a doctor.
The liver is under the right rib cage. Although the liver is stronger than the spleen, a blow to the right ribs can tear its surface. If the damage is severe, surgery may be needed to repair the tear and stop the bleeding or to remove part of the liver. Any suspected liver damage should be seen by a doctor immediately.
Damage to other Abdominal Organs
The stomach or intestines may be injured by heavy blows to the abdomen. Bruising these organs can cause bleeding in their lining. See a doctor immediately if you suspect internal bleeding.
A blow to the solar plexus, which is a nerve center in the abdomen, may short-circuit the nervous system causing a knockout. Usually, nerve function is restored within a few minutes. If this happens to you while sparring, rest until you feel normal and then pick up where you left off.
A fighter may sprain wrist ligaments by hitting an opponent or the heavy bag. If you sprain your wrist, rest it for two to three weeks, or longer if it remains painful, icing it intermittently. You may also need to have it splinted by a doctor to allow the ligaments to heal, which takes about three weeks.
The small bones of the wrist may slide out of place if the ligaments holding them together are partially torn. This partial dislocation, which often is the result of constantly hitting the heavy bag, causes pain at the base of the hand when you hit. This is a serious injury that requires surgical repair.
The usual treatment for a broken toe is to ice it until the pain is gone and then to buddy-tape it to the toe next to it, with gauze between the two toes so that the skin does not rub.
The big toe does not buddy-tape well and may require medical treatment. This may include realigning the broken bone and keeping weight off the toe for three to four weeks.
Injuries to the Hitter
Injuries may also occur to the person doing the hitting. The metacarpal bones, which are the long bones in the palm of the hand that form the knuckles with the fingers, can break from the force of a blow on the knuckle.
Most commonly, boxers break the fourth and fifth metacarpals; consequently, these are known as "boxer's fractures." These fractures must be set, have a cast applied, and rested for at least eight weeks.
Hand injuries in the martial arts differ slightly from those in boxing because blows are delivered with the side of the hand as well as with a closed fist. Fractures commonly occur in the fifth metacarpal, the bone behind the little finger. These fractures, just as in boxing, need a cast for four to six weeks. You will probably need to wait at least eight weeks before you can start hitting with the hand again.
Bragman, J. B.. (2003). [Online]. Available: http://www.bragmanhealth.com