Injuries in Taekwondo

Yes, it’s possible to have injures in Taekwondo. However, most injuries are avoidable. Among the best ways to avoid injury are maintaining a good fitness level, using equipment properly, and knowing your own limits.

If you are injured, see a qualified medical professional. Follow your doctor’s orders – including orders on follow-up and continuing (or not continuing) to practice any sport or martial art. Be sure to tell your instructor, before you begin a practice, if you have an injury.

Here is a small sample of the most common injuries that occur when practicing Taekwondo or other martial arts.

  • Sprained ankles or knees: As with any other sport, movement of the joints can cause strain on the muscles, tendons and ligaments. One of the most common injuries in Taekwondo is a sprained ankle or knee, in which the joint ligaments are overstretched. See your doctor, and follow his/her orders. You may need to take a break from practice for a few days. You may need to ice down the affected area. Sometimes it may be best to use crutches. Give yourself time to heal! With proper treatment and rehabilitation, returning to Taekwondo training can be as soon as a few days.
  • Strained muscles: Incorrect warm-up or stretching sometimes results in your muscles being pulled too far. In Taekwondo, you’re doing so many kicks that your hamstrings (back of the upper leg), quadriceps (front of the upper leg), and calf muscles (back of the lower leg) really get a workout. Failure to stretch and warm these muscles can result in tearing them – which is very painful. Your back is also susceptible to muscle strains, as it twists and turns during kicking and form exercises. A slightly strained muscle may take a day or so to heal; a more serious strain can take longer. Ice and relaxation are key to getting back to practicing.
  • Soreness: Soreness is caused by lactic acid built up in your muscles after you use them for an extended period of time. It isn’t an injury; it’s just your body saying, “Hey, you’re doing something!” Proper stretching can help you get over the soreness, but don’t let it keep you out of training. In fact, it’s best to keep working out. But make sure to take the time to stretch and warm up properly – and let your instructor know that you are feeling the effects of the workouts.
  • Bruises: Welcome to sparring! You will be learning how to control your kicks and punches as you start your sparring training. Whatever martial art you study, and whether you practice “full contact” or “no-contact” sparring, the basics are the same. Sparring lets you practice in relative safety and see how your skills would actually work in real life. There is always a chance of being hit accidentally. Sometimes these accidental hits can cause a bruise (contusion) on your skin. The reason for the color is that the blood pools under the skin as it heals. Some bruises can be very sore; others don’t affect you at all. Avoiding bruises is easier said than done: just don’t’ get hit! In reality, the best thing to do is to wear proper protective equipment. If you do get a bruise, remedies are available at your pharmacy. Any bruise that is very painful, or that doesn’t fade in a few days, should be checked out by a medical professional, as it could be a symptom of other issues.

Now for some more serious injuries:

  • Broken fingers and toes: Occasionally, a small bone may fracture, usually when sparring at higher belt levels. Proper training in blocking and avoiding kicks can limit the chances of a broken toe or finger. Be sure to warm up properly.
  • Serious joint injuries: These occur occasionally. As with sports like football and basketball – in which knees, ankles, and elbows are constantly changing position – sometimes the body is not in the right position to execute a technique correctly. Any serious joint injury should be seen by a medical professional right away.
  • Concussion: This is my personal enemy. A concussion – a jarring injury of the brain that results in disturbance of brain functions – is possible in any impact sport or martial art. However, concussions in martial arts usually happen only to athletes who compete at high levels, where forceful kicks to the head are allowed (and, in some cases, encouraged). The current WTF sparring rules for children and the entire colored-belt division require that there be no kicks to the head. At higher black belt levels, a kick to the head must be controlled by the attacker. I suffered three concussions in my Taekwondo career – twice in competition (before these rules for head contact were instituted), and once a belt ceremony (I locked my knees and passed out, hitting my head on the floor – live and learn). Since headgear and equipment have greatly improved since my competition days, and since the rules have changed, the number of concussions incurred by athletes at all Taekwondo levels have diminished.

How to avoid injuries:

It’s impossible to keep all athletic injuries from occurring, except by not being involved in athletics and staying away from the gym. Apart from that option, the key is proper caution.

  • Warm up and stretch properly. Warming up the body allows the blood to flow to the muscles and lets the joints “work out” any stiffness. All workouts should include a warm-up period, even for children (who warm up a lot faster than adults). Also, stretching your muscles properly before class “wakes up” the muscles before they start doing the kicks and punches.
  • Inform your instructor if you don’t feel well or if you have an injury. Most sports injuries get worse when you are reinjured (as in the case of both my ankles). Be smart! Talk with your instructor whenever you are injured, or if for any reason you are not 100% ready for a hard workout. That way you may have a chance to modify or adapt your workout so that you don’t further hurt yourself.
  • Wear proper equipment. Wearing the approved equipment for your class is just as important as being there on time. Sparring without pads (or complete pads) is asking for an injury – maybe a serious one (unless you’re practicing no-contact sparring). Wearing the proper size uniform can also be important; one that is too big can trip you up.
  • Know your limits. It may be cool to think that you can jump over five students crouched on the ground to execute a flying side kick. But when you have not been able to jump because of bad knees or a bad back, you’ll just hurt yourself and possibly the five brave students crouching on the floor. Know what your body can do! Push yourself sensibly.. You’ll learn how to do it.
  • Follow doctor’s orders: I say it from personal experience: you MUST follow doc’s orders, even if you think you know everything. You should not want to push yourself to the point of reinjury.
  • Finally, talk with your instructor about your injuries or limitations. As a 40-year-old black belt, I know that I can’t do the 360-degree kicks that I used to do as a teenager. I have to modify my approach to practices. My instructor knows this, and allows me to modify as needed. I can still get a great workout; I just leave the show-stopper kicks to the younger people who never fail to impress the crowds in demonstrations!

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