What You Need To Know About Injury Recovery in Martial Arts

What You Need To Know About Injury Recovery in Martial Arts

The following is a guest post from Jessica Hegg. Her bio is at the bottom.

What You Need To Know About Injury Recovery in Martial Arts

Although martial arts are among the safest sports, especially for beginner and intermediate participants, the risk of injury is always there, even in non-contact martial arts, like tai chi. The highest risk style is Taekwondo (59 percent), followed by Aikido (51 percent) and kung fu (38 percent).

Almost any injury probably means an absolute minimum of two or three weeks of either no training or very light training, and that down time could significantly affect performance, especially in any immediately pending tournaments. After all, these kinds of things only happen in the movies.

So, how participants recover from injury is almost as important as how they train.

Common Injuries

Adult beginners almost always get hurt, to one extent or another, during martial arts. Many times, the injury is simply sore muscles. However, more advanced injuries, such as shin splints, are not uncommon either. Beginner athletes often get shin splints because their legs are not used to the pressure of running and jumping. This injury is incredibly painful but, as outlined below, not very difficult to treat.

But across all age groups, experienced participants are three times more likely to sustain injuries than beginners. That’s probably because as moves become more advanced and contact more frequent, there is a risk of:

  • Strains and Sprains: Some disciplines involve holds and moves which, if not done correctly, can injure either or both participants.

  • Bruises and Cuts: Even the deep bruises and cuts commonly associated with martial arts usually heal on their own, given time and some basic first aid precautions.

  • Broken Bones: Especially among younger participants, one hard fall or sudden move is usually enough to snap a bone. These hard falls sometimes cause head injuries as well, again especially among children.

Typically, defensive injuries occur on the hands, face, lips, or nose, while offensive injuries affect the knees, hands, shoulders, and elbows.

When to Go Back to Training

Under no circumstances should an athlete return to martial arts until the injury is 100 percent healed. So in the above clip, Daniel probably should have been kicked out of the match for lying to the referee (or at least greatly misleading him) and Johnny should have been declared the winner, but that’s not exactly a Hollywood ending.

100 percent healed means zero pain, normal strength, and full range of motion.

Head injuries are a little more involved because the brain is very adept at hiding its own injury. That’s why so many concussed athletes insist that they “feel fine,” because they probably do. So, a qualified doctor should evaluate the athlete before clearing him or her to return.

Treating Injuries

Broken bones, separated shoulders, concussions, and other major injuries obviously require immediate medical attention and strict attention to the doctor’s orders.

Muscle injuries, like the aforementioned shin splints, are a little different, because for the most part, athletes can take control of their own recoveries with the RICE method.

  • Rest: Have a doctor or trainer evaluate the athlete to determine an approximate recovery period. For the first third, have the athlete remain completely immobile as much as possible, some assisted moving around is okay during the second third, and keeping weight off the injured area is a good idea during the third third.

  • Ice: Opinions go back and forth, but there is no doubt that ice reduces inflammation and pain, and these are probably good things.

  • Compression: If the athlete has shin splints, have the athlete wear a shin splints brace, because it will decrease swelling and support the area.

  • Elevation: To speed recovery, keep the injured area elevated above the heart for as long as possible.


Being ready for injury to occur, and knowing what to do to recover, can make a tremendous difference in overall martial arts progression and performance.

Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com.  Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living a healthy lifestyle. Through her writing, she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.