Common Injuries in the Martial Arts: Part I Upper Body

You do not have to be a
professional martial artist to be concerned with injuries interfering with
kicking and punching skills.  As
with many other athletes, incurring sport injuries is detrimental to improving
martial arts techniques and overall forms and fighting skills.  Many professional martial artists will
tell you that their injuries are sport specific – related to the repetitive
movements specific to the sport of martial arts.  Learning to identify the symptoms of many common injuries
can help prevent minor injuries from escalating to a severe or chronic

I will share with you a
breakdown of some of these common injuries.  I’m first going to cover upper extremity injuries and then
travel down through the body. I will then give you an outline of the treatment
guidelines and prevention techniques that incorporate strengthening exercises
for these weak or injured areas.

The amount of striking
and punching present in the martial arts varies depending upon the specific
style (s) that is practiced.  The
hands, elbow and shoulder are the obvious area of concern.  So whether you are boxing the mitts
with 12 ounce gloves, practicing your board breaking in karate or TKD, drilling
armlocks in brazilian jiu jitsu or moving through a hip toss in a judo class,
you should become aware of preventive methods to avoid hand, elbow and shoulder



This injury, usually
caused by the smashing of the dorsal side (back) of the hand is located at the
fifth metacarpal (base of the 5th finger). 


Swelling and pain will
occur on the backside of the hand with an angular or rotational deformity.  Deformity can also occur within the
finger, appearing to be twisted at the joint.  Bruising to fingers and dorsal (backside) of the hand may
also occur.  However, discoloration
of the hand is not always indicative to the severity of the injury.


It is important the
remember the acronym RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.  If,  after applying the RICE method and pain still exists, seek
the medical attention of a physician.

If a physician determines
there is a fracture, the hand will be splinted for approximately 4 weeks after
which range of motion exercises will be prescribed to facilitate healing.


• Hand gripping with a
squeeze ball or hand grip.

• Various wrist rolls
with small weights (rolling wrist towards the forearm).

• Isolated movement of
each finger (up and down 20-40 reps each).

• Strengthening of the
wrist joint by placing both hands flat against each other and slowly pushing.

• Spreading and closing
the fingers.



This type of injury can
easily occur from punching, locking techniques or take-downs.  The rotator cuff muscles, located under
the deltoids is involved in the rotation of the arm, abduction (movement away
from body) and provides stability to the shoulder joint. When the shoulder
joint is twisted and pulled or if there is overuse from throwing the arm injury
to the rotator cuff is common.  


Tenderness will be felt
in the front of the shoulder, below the edge of the collarbone or along the
shoulder blades (scapula).  Also,
pain will be felt while rotating and lifting the arm simultaneously.  Since there are four muscles that
comprise the rotator cuff muscles, it is difficult to identify injury.



Follow rice (rest, ice,
compression and elevation) for the immediate care.  Since it is easy to confuse an injury to the deltoid with
one to the rotator cuff seek the care of a physician.



• Stretch the shoulder
joint by placing arm across the chest, while other arm holds it tightly against
your chest (see photo).

• Try stretching the
chest and the shoulder thoroughly.

• Internal rotation with
resistance bands (see photos). 
Proceed with t            his
exercise on each arm.  3 sets and
12-20 reps.  2-3 times per week

• External rotation with
a resistance band (see photo). 
Proceed with this exercise on each arm.  3 sets and 12-20 reps. 
2-3 times per


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