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10 Most Common MMA Injuries in Training & Competition 2023

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Also, strength training leads to muscle gains, which improves the body’s performance, functional ability, bone strength, and muscle’s ability to handle stress and improve injury resistance. Increased muscle can also help correct muscular imbalances which can lead to musculoskeletal injuries. A huge problem in professional MMA is training and fighting with injuries. Fighters find it hard to have days, weeks, and even months off without any training because they feel like their skills are worsening and their opponents strengthening.

10 Most Common MMA Injuries

Functional work is focusing on correcting muscular imbalances in the body which are causing injury. It’s using movements that mimic the movements used in everyday life but also ones often neglected and leading to imbalances. Mostly the small stabilizing muscles are the ones neglected.

10 Most Common MMA Injuries From Competition

Mouthguard: Protects the teeth, tongue, lips, gums, and jawline by covering the top teeth with a protective thermoplastic layer to reduce impact and keep the jaw in place. Mouthguards are compulsory when competing so they should also be used when training/sparring to avoid MMA injuries. There were a total of 831 injuries recorded by the 455 fighters. Studies looking at whether stretching specifically helps with injury prevention have found no direct link. However, stretching does improve flexibility, posture, blood circulation, and an increased range of motion which can help improve athletic performance in MMA and therefore help prevent injury.

Injury Number (out of 1344) Percent
1. Head Injury 351 26.1%
2. Wrist/Hand 164 12.2%
3. Knee 143 10.6%
4. Foot 97 7.2%
5. Shoulder 85 6.3%
6. Elbow 54 4%
7. Lower Leg 37 2.7%
8. Ankle 36 2.7%
9. Neck 26 1.9%
10. Chest 22 1.6%

Training intensely with even niggling injuries can make them worse and bring up new injuries. Training with injuries is more common than fighting with injuries because fighters have to complete medical clearance before competing, whereas for training they don’t. In this article, we’ll examine the 10 most common MMA injuries in both training and competition and how they can be avoided.

Injury Diagnosis Men Women
1. Knee Pain  16.8% 15.3%
2. Concussion 15.2% 9.2%
3. Foot Pain 15% 10.2%
4. Wrist/Hand Pain 13.4% 15.3%
5. Shoulder Pain 8.4% 14.3%
6. Nasal Fracture 9.5% 7.1%
7. Elbow Pain 6.3% 9.2%
8. Lower Leg Pain 5.9% N/A
9. Orbital Fracture 5.4% N/A
10. Ankle Pain 4.1% N/A
11. Ankle Sprains N/A 7.1%
12. Eyebrow Laceration N/A 4.1%
13. Nose Bruising/Haematome N/A 4.1%

So, despite there being a lack of research on MMA training injuries, here are three reasons why MMA fighters are more injured in training than in competition.

1. Analysis of Injury Types for Mixed Martial Arts Athletes (2016)

Groin Protection: A cup protects the groin by absorbing impact. Groin strikes are common and injury is likely underreported due to how groin protection is compulsory when competing. They should also be used when training/sparring to avoid MMA injuries. Out of 503 fights, 285 bouts had injuries (57%) for a total of 401 reported injuries. The most common MMA injuries were: Research results differ among the studies conducted, but one of the most extensive and accurate studies was conducted by the UFC Performance Institute. The research focused on UFC injuries from 2017 to 2020, of which 1344 were recorded. 1. Arm: 253 (30.4%)
2. Neck: 146 (17.4%)
3. Head: 118 (14.2%)
4. Hand: 71 (8.5%)
5. Wrist: 65 (7.8%)
6. Shoulder: 37 (4.5%)
7. Thigh: 30 (3.6%)
8. Forearm: 25 (3%)
9. Foot: 17 (2%)
10. Finger: 15 (1.8%) In men, striking caused 74.8% of injuries, grappling caused 16.5%, submissions 3%, and the rest are miscellaneous. In women, striking caused 64.7% of injuries, grappling 22.4%, submissions 5.2%, and the rest are miscellaneous. These numbers are taken from both training and fighting.

2. Injury Profile of Mixed Martial Arts Competitions in the United States (2021)

Following on from the competition injuries, the 10 most common MMA training injuries according to the UFC Performance Institute’s research are: This study looked at 455 MMA fighters in competition in South Korea (2015) and recorded the following injury results. On the other hand, in training, fighters aren’t expecting to get injured so they let their guard down. They may train exceptionally intensely and get injured, get lazy in training and don’t use protective gear, or get tired and their technique and movement become sloppy.

10 Most Common MMA Injuries From Training

A retrospective review of MMA injuries in amateur and professional competition in Wisconsin and Arizona between 2018 and 2019. 

Injury Number (out of 1344) Percent
1. Knee 59 4.3%
2. Shoulder 43 3.1%
3. Neck 28 2%
4. Wrist/Hand 28 2%
5. Ankle 18 1.3%
6. Lumbar Spine 18 1.3%
7. Elbow 12 0.9%
8. Hip/Groin 12 0.9%
9. Foot 10 0.7%
10. Head 10 0.7%

A 2017 clinical review of MMA from 1980 to 2015 concluded training injuries outnumber competition injuries 4-to-1, based on 1 MMA, 1 taekwondo, and 1 karate study. It also said the ratio will increase as more recreational MMA practitioners join the sport. As can be seen from the UFC Performance Institute’s injury data, striking is the highest cause of injury among men and women during competition. 1. Lacerations: 321
2. Concussions: 179
3. Contusions: 142
4. Fracture: 53
5. Strain: 51
6. Joint Dysfunction: 45
7. Sprain: 25
8. Dislocation: 20
9. Epistaxis: 15
10. Other: 9

How To Avoid Injury in MMA Training & Competition

Avoiding injury in MMA competition is much harder as protective gear isn’t allowed, except mouthguards and groin protection. It’s also because fighters are aiming to hurt each other to win.

How To Avoid Injury in MMA Training

Most of the research on common MMA injuries has explored competition rather than training. In competition, the most common MMA injuries are lacerations, contusions, concussions, and fractures/sprains to the wrist, knees, and ankles, followed by various other injuries according to different research studies.

1. Wear the Correct Protective Gear

It’s also hard to compare any studies on the most common MMA injuries as a result of training as the research is limited. Therefore, the results in the table above from UFC PI are the best available in 2023. Shin Guards: Covers and protects the foot, ankle, shin, and calves when kicking and when checking or taking strikes. Reduces impact and protects against contusions, fractures, ligament/tendon injury, and muscle strain/tears. Are you wondering what the most common MMA injuries are and how to avoid them? The large majority of research studies have focused on MMA injuries from competing, while training injuries have been neglected. Because of this, the most common MMA injuries should be separated into training and competition injuries so they can be more clearly seen. However, the Performance Institute admits training injuries are likely to be under-represented due to fighters not reporting injuries, whereas ringside physicians check every fighter post-fight and write down any injury. Injuries from fighting are more likely to be significant because fighters are actively trying to hurt each other, but two or three days of single fights can’t compare to the 250-300 days of training per year an MMA fighter does. For this reason, MMA injuries are much more common in training.

2. Strength Training

So, in the fight itself, the best way to avoid common MMA injuries is to adopt a grappling-heavy approach. If a fighter’s in control of their opponent, the number of strikes taken is reduced. Khabib Nurmagomedov perfected this style and took very little damage throughout his career. For comparison of injuries, let’s take a look at the most common MMA injuries according to other notable research. Many MMA training injuries cause fighters to miss an upcoming fight as they try to push through and end up making it worse. Strength training can improve bone mineral density and bone strength as bones have the ability to change depending on the stress they’re under. This helps MMA practitioners avoid bone injuries such as fractures and general pain. For MMA fighters, it’s also working on the full range of motion of movements specifically used in the cage/octagon.

3. Stretching and Functional Work

Avoiding injury in MMA training is easier to do than in competition, but there are ways to avoid both. From those body areas most commonly injured, the ten most common MMA injuries were diagnosed as: Of these locations, the most common MMA injuries were: 

4. Training Injury-Free

A big part of avoiding injury in MMA training is to train only when injury-free. Training with an injury, no matter how small, is likely to make it worse and possibly cause other injuries. If training can take place without affecting the injury, then it likely isn’t a 100% effort training session. Here’s a table showing the 10 most common MMA competition injuries by area of the body according to the UFC Performance Institute’s research.

How To Avoid Injury in MMA Competition

Based on these numbers, 80.7% of UFC injuries occur from competition, while 19.3% occur in training. MMA Sparring Gloves or Boxing Gloves: These have the most protection and protect the hands, wrists, and elbows from injury. They also help protect a sparring partner from lacerations and contusions. Gloves should also be paired with hand wraps for increased protection.

1. Enter Fights Without Injury

1. Lacerations: 122 (30.4%)
2. Contusion/hematoma: 106 (26.4%)
3. Bone/Cartilage Fracture: 50 (12.4%)
4. Concussion: 49 (12.2%)
5. Tendon/Ligament Injury: 38 (9.4%)
6. Epistaxis: 19 (4.7%)
7. Muscle Strain/Tear: 12 (3%)
8. Dyspnea: 5 (1.2%)

2. Adopt a Grappling-Heavy Approach

Injuries in a fight are expected and injuries in training are more unexpected. For this reason, fighters can go into a fight being very cautious, defensive, and not looking to engage as a way to avoid injury – especially if they’re entering the fight already injured. Increased muscle also increases collagen which is the primary fiber of connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments – again increasing their strength and resistance to injury.

Are MMA Fighters Injured More in Training or Competition?

Of the 1344 injuries, they were either recorded as injuries from competition or injuries from training. Ligaments and tendons will strengthen via weightlifting and some studies have also reported an increase in size. MMA injuries are more common in training than the competition because of how intensely and consistently MMA fighters train to be the best fighters in the world throughout the year. On the other hand, MMA fighters only fight 2 or 3 times per year on average.

1. Training With Injuries

MMA practitioners can avoid injury by wearing the correct protective gear for every type of training. The following protective gear is the most essential in MMA. There are four main ways injuries can be avoided in MMA training. The only way an MMA fighter can reduce the common MMA injuries as a result of competition is to make sure they’re reducing injuries in training, giving themselves great rest, and making sure they’re entering the fight in their best physical condition free from injury and strain.

2. Time Spent Training vs Competing

There hasn’t been enough research on MMA training injuries to draw a comparison to competition injuries, but research across combat sports shows there to be more injuries as a result of training – which is certainly applicable to MMA. This requires a change in mentality, that it’s better to be fully rested and to let injuries fully heal before getting back into training.

3. Expected vs Unexpected Injury

Headgear: Reduces impact to the head and therefore protects against concussions and contusions. Also helps protect against lacerations caused by knuckles, elbows, and knees. Weightlifting can help MMA fighters improve their range of motion, and mobility, reduce muscle fatigue and reduce musculoskeletal injuries (muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and joints). Many fighters entering a fight with injuries but who’ve managed to pass the medical clearance may already have resigned themselves to a loss and are simply there for a payday. For this reason, while they may try to win (because the contract requires it), in their mind they’re focused on damage limitation.

The Bottom Line

However, there are two main ways injuries can be avoided in MMA competitions.

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