Wrestling is a physically demanding combat sport. To participate in wrestling you must be in excellent physical condition and take care of your body.
Since there’s so much impact contact in wrestling, it’s relatively easy to sustain injuries. Most of these injuries are minor. Cuts, scrapes, mat burn, and bruises are common occurrences when wrestling. But serious injuries can also occur on the mat.
Being aware of how the most common wrestling injuries occur and how to prevent them is essential to being a wrestler. This quick guide walks you through everything you need to know to stay safe on the mats.
Cuts, Scrapes, and Bruises
Even minor injuries need to be taken seriously when you’re a wrestler. Cuts, scrapes, and bruises cannot be ignored.
Whenever you get a cut or scrape that remains open, it’s important to immediately clean the wound. Then cover it with gauze and medical tape.
If you head right back out on the mat, the dressing will probably fall off during practice. Be sure to cover the wound again as long as you’re on the mats. Wrestling mats are a breeding ground for bacteria, so having an open wound can lead to serious infection.
For bruises, use a topical cream like Arnica to speed the healing process. Do your best to avoid additional impact to the bruised area while it’s healing. Much easier said than done in wrestling, but do your best. Bruised areas that continue to be injured can develop into hematomas, which are more painful and take longer to heal.
To prevent cuts, bruises, and scrapes on the mats, wear long leggings and long-sleeved rashguards to minimize the amount of exposed skin. The compression will also help minimize bruising.
One distinct injury that’s unique to grappling sports like wrestling is cauliflower ear. This injury develops over time from repeated damage to the cartilage of the ears. In wrestling, this usually occurs because the ears are pressed tightly against the head or the mat during different holds or submissions.
Repeated damage to the cartilage in the ears leads to fluid build-up in the ear tissue, which leads to hard nodules forming on the ears. Sometimes the fluid can be drained and if the ear is allowed to heal the cartilage won’t warp. But if the damage is left untreated and repeated damage occurs, the ear warps permanently.
The best way to avoid cauliflower ear is to wear headgear that covers the ears. You can also prevent cauliflower ear by ensuring that any fluid build-up is drained and refraining from training until the ear tissue is healed.
Wrestlers often hit their knees on the mats when they’re doing takedowns or other techniques. This repeated impact on the knee can lead to a condition called knee bursitis.
There are small, fluid-filled sacs around the knee joint and one under the patella called the bursa. When the bones in the knee joint, usually the patella, hit the sac because of external impact, the bursa can become inflamed. This causes extra fluid to accumulate around the knee joint.
When the bursas are inflamed, it causes the knee to swell. The inflammation also causes pain in the knee joint.
To prevent knee bursitis, you need to avoid repeated impact on the knees. The best way to do this is by wearing kneepads when you train. It’s also important to learn how to safely hit the mats. If you can spread the impact over a larger surface area, damage to the knee is less likely.
ACL, MCL, and Meniscus Tears
The knee is a complicated joint that’s only supposed to bend, not twist. The ligaments around the knee joint and the tissue below the patella keep the knee in place and work to prevent it from moving in ways it’s not supposed to. But when a force causes the knee joint to twist, these ligaments and tissues can tear.
In wrestling, tears to the ligaments or tissues of the knee usually occur during takedowns. The knee twists while the opponent is performing the technique, or the knee twists when the wrestler hits the mat.
These injuries are very serious and must be treated properly to avoid permanent damage.
To prevent ligament and tissue tears in the knee, it’s important to practice superb technique. While wrestling is a contact sport, it doesn’t have to be dangerous.
Training and performing each technique the right way can prevent injuries, especially to the knees. Learning how to properly fall on the mat when you’re caught in a takedown is also important to prevent knee injuries.
Wearing kneepads or a soft knee brace can also help prevent these injuries. Some athletes find athletic taping helpful as well.
Concussions occur when an impact to the head causes the brain to bump up against the skull. Concussions can be minor with relatively few symptoms or longterm impacts. Concussions can also be very serious injuries that permanently impact the quality of life. So, it’s incredibly important to prevent concussions on the mats.
Concussions are most likely to occur during takedowns. So, practicing excellent takedown techniques can help prevent concussions. Wearing headgear is also important for preventing concussions.
Preventing Wrestling Injuries
Most of these common wrestling injuries can be prevented by training and conditioning.
Since doing any wrestling technique improperly can lead to serious injury and even death, it’s essential that coaches teach their athletes how to perform each technique safely and correctly. Athletes should drill each technique at 50% of their capacity until they can perform it well. And athletes should never be allowed to spar before they’re proficient with the techniques they’ll be using and encountering.
Strength and muscle tone are also important for injury prevention. Wrestlers should be engaging in cross-training, especially weight training, that focuses on strengthening their quads, glutes, core, and back muscles. Strength and stability in these muscles can help prevent injuries to surrounding structures.
Lastly, diet plays an important part in injury prevention, especially in wrestling. Muscle tears can occur easily if athletes aren’t getting enough protein. Hydration is also important for keeping the muscles lubricated and flexible.
Interested in getting started with wrestling? Check out this guide which walks you through how to start training.
Staying Healthy While Wrestling
Wrestling is tough on the body, but it doesn’t have to be dangerous on the body. If you’re eating well, hydrating, strength training, and practicing excellent technique, then you shouldn’t suffer any major wrestling injuries.
Of course, injuries do happen even if you are doing everything right. If you do get injured, take the proper amount of time to rest and recuperate.
Looking for some more advice about how to stay healthy while you workout? Check out the Miscellaneous section of our site.