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By Dr. Pamela Fernandes  |  21 January 2021   

No pain, no glory is the philosophy in the dojo. However, injuries are bound to happen while training. You might have heard the often-told joke in aikido making light of injuries. Hurt knee? Walk it off. Broken arm? Walk it off. Internal bleeding? Walk it off. Jokes aside, when injury strikes, do you have what it takes to treat injuries and probably fix them at the dojo itself? Some injuries; you can’t just simply walk them off.

What To Include In Your Dojo First Aid Kit?

Every dojo must have its medical kit to deal with the occasional injury. While many make their own and keep elaborate kits, it is almost impossible to prepare for every medical emergency. There’s a whole branch of medicine dedicated to combat arts. We take you through a small list of basics and a few supplemental items you can keep for your dojo’s medical kit.

Gloves

Always keep a box of sterile gloves. Never touch any injury or wound without putting on gloves. This is to prevent any contamination of the wound and also to protect the person that is administering medical aid from blood-borne/transmitted infections.

Disinfectants

So an athlete fell and scraped a knee or caught a nail scratch across the face? Ouch. Minor scrapes and abrasions need to be disinfected before you put on a band-aid or dressing. Any lacerations with a metal instrument or weapon will also require disinfecting. So keep alcohol wipes handy.

This can also be used to sanitize your thermometer, scissors, or even the mat where the injury took place. You can keep some betadine solution. Plenty of people add hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol to their kits. However, these are much too harsh, and not every injury requires such a strong disinfectant. After cleaning with water, a few drops of betadine might suffice. Do not use Lysol sprays or wipes. These are not supposed to be used on the skin.

Normal Saline

Saltwater? Yes and no. 

Normal saline at .9% sodium chloride concentration serves multiple purposes. It can be used to wash and clean wounds, wash contact lenses, and also for rinsing eyes. 

While clean water may do the trick, there are many dojos where access to water is restricted.

Bandages

While most would scoff at the idea of a band-aid, if you are actively bleeding or there is considerable swelling, bandages are a necessity. They are also useful to secure a splint in the case of a fracture. Band-Aid Flexible fabric bandages in assorted sizes work pretty well. Some fighters may be allergic to latex, so latex-free bandages are a good alternative, though not the best. 

You can also add cohesive bandaging material which is good to wrap over a sprain, joint injuries, or over an ice pack. Stock up on liquid bandages for small cuts and lacerations. It comes in a nail polish like a bottle and is pretty handy without taking up too much space. After all, you don’t want anyone bleeding all over the mat.  

Medications

Now lets’ get to the drugs. Not the stuff that gets you high! We’re talking about over the counter medications. First, a tube of antibacterial ointment or Neosporin is essential for all those wounds and scrapes. 

Pain medications or Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil), and naproxen sodium (Aleve) are also important. Antipyretics or anti-fever medications, like aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol), are good additions to the kit. For muscle spasms, strains and pains, and all other muscle soreness, pain ointments or balms are super helpful.

They can include BenGay, Tiger Balm, arnica, Icy Hot, and self-adhesive patches, like Salonpas. For the occasional heartburn, you can stock up Tums, simethicone for gas, and Pepto-Bismol. You may have the occasional athlete pass out or drop from low sugar or dehydration. And for incidences like that, a powdered electrolyte drink mix like Gatorade powder is a very good quick fix.  

Splints, Slings & Supports

We’re hoping there are no broken bones at the dojo. But hey accidents happen. Splints can support a fractured limb. You can make a finger splint in a pinch with cardboard. For larger limbs, you can do something similar but a pre-made splint and sling can save time and stabilize the fractured bone.

If you don’t want to make splints, a SAM splint, made of a compact versatile material can be applied to any bone or joint in case of a suspected fracture.

Add some braces, supports, or wraps to your medical kit for joints like elbows, wrists, and ankles and you’re ready for bone action. Keep a couple of crutch tips of about 1-inch diameter. When someone wrenches an ankle or knee, slap these on the end of their jo for a DIY walking stick. 

If you like being creative, try making your sling from a triangular bandage or scarf instead. You can also learn how to wrap hands, especially in Muay Thai and kickboxing from a professional UFC cutman.

Ice packs

You can store reusable gel ice packs. Legendary MMA cutman, Jacob “Stitch” Duran says preparation is key. He swears by his swabs soaked in medication and ice packs. Keep your ice packs in the freezer so they are always ready at hand. They are handy for sprains and cramps. A couple of these are good.

In case you need to send an athlete home with one, you still have another one in the kit. For dojos without a freezer, instant ice packs are a good choice. If you don’t want to spend on the former, you can create DIY ice packs with a sturdy Ziploc bag. Add ice to the bag, seal it, wrap it in a towel or gi and apply to the affected area just like a regular ice pack. Pretty neat, right?

Automated External Defibrillator (AED)

Dr. John Neidecker, ringside sports physician says, “combat medicine needs to be held to a higher standard.” He suggests basic provisions and guidelines be made available at dojos and ringside. An automated external defibrillator (AED) is expensive but one such necessary provision.

If you’re fortunate to have someone donate one to your dojo then add this to your medical kit. An alternative to this is to find out the nearest location to an AED.

If you do have to use an AED, get a CPR breathing barrier. This protects you while you give mouth to mouth breathing during cardiopulmonary resuscitation. If you do keep an AED, train everyone on how to use it or keep a set of instructions handy.

Cotton and Gauze pads

Keep cotton and bleeding plugs in your medical kit. You can use nosebleed plugs designed for the nose, oval eye pads for the eyes, or double up the cotton. Gauze pads in various sizes or rolls are also great for stemming bleeding and preventing the application of direct gauze. As the wound heals, the wound might incorporate pieces of gauze to enmesh with the scab. Ripping this off can be painful. Yikes! Topping the gauze on top of cotton will prevent this. Use ABD pads for large abdominal wounds.

Supplemental Items

Medical guidelines for professional fights have a handbook that add other supplemental items. It may make your medical kit cumbersome, but they are essential. Bandage scissors or EMS shears are necessary to cut your bandages, gauzes, and splints.

A splinter out remover is good to take out those pesky splinters. Or you can use a clean, sterilized pair of tweezers. Athletic tape is another great tool in your arsenal to secure a bandage. 

You may also consider stocking elastic tape. With the COVID19 pandemic, a thermometer is essential now at every dojo. Sanitize it after every use unless it’s a contactless thermometer.  If you have athletes who have seizure disorder then a tongue depressor may also be added to the medical kit.

Purchasing a low-cost comprehensive Medical Kit is one way to avoid having to piece meal together many of the supplemental items needed in a Medical Kit. 

Special Considerations for Different Martial Arts

Specific martial arts tend to be more injurious than others. Data shows that martial artists of tae kwon do sustain 59%, aikido 51%, kung fu 38%, and karate 30%. 7% of combat fighters who train in Muay Thai sustain injuries that need 7 days off. 

Tae Kwon Do

The most common injuries observed among Taekwondo athletes are contusions, lacerations, sprains, strains, knee lesions, broken limbs, and broken noses. The most frequent locations are the foot, knee, ankle, thigh, and head.

Because kick techniques are more powerful and effective for scoring points than punches, athletes sustain more injuries to their lower extremities.

And so the International Taekwondo Federation recommends a medical kit stocked with splints, bandages, wraps, nasal packs, and a first aid guide to understanding the difference between soft tissue injuries and fractures.

Aikido

Since Aikido is more of locking and throwing art, the majority of its injuries occur in the knees, shoulders, ears, ankles, and hand/fingers. They are primarily contusions which comprise 56% of the injuries, sprains about 12%, and abrasions roughly 8% of the injuries. 8th Dan Fumaiki Shishida says, “even the tatami is dangerous, no blow is slight.” The medical kit should therefore have prepared ice packs, analgesic sprays and ointments, and a cervical collar for head injuries.

Kung fu

Studies have shown a higher incidence of injuries to the lower limb joints in formalized (taolu) compared to combat (sanshou) kung fu athletes. These joint injuries occur despite the shorter practice time. The sanshou fighting techniques cause acute injuries from direct trauma or during kicking and twisting motions while the taolu routines involve similar jumps and landings.

They both lead to overuse injuries by repetitive overload stress. Muscle tendon injuries are the most common and these destabilize the joints. Kung fu martial artists can stock up on wraps, braces, compression supports, straps, and joint support pads.

Karate

Shotokan karate is considered relatively safer especially if their non-contact combat styles are practiced. Injuries are mostly seen among practitioners engaged in high-level competitions. These athletes often wear mouth guards and occasionally lightweight sparring gloves. Techniques don’t involve contact to the head, and light body contact is permitted. Hence, the risk of injury is less. Most of the injuries involve contusions that only require some ice.

Muay Thai

Studies have shown that soft tissue injuries are the most common Muay Thai kickboxing while fractures came in a close second. Since the lower extremities are heavily involved, they bear the brunt of the injuries. Abrasions and contusions are common among athletes. Athletic tape to secure gauze or ‘splint’ an injured finger to an adjacent one is a must-have. Use Band-aids for cuts and lacerations with alcohol wipes to clean them. Break to activate ice packs are also a good addition.

DIY Medical Kit

It can feel rather expensive if you’re building a medical kit from scratch. However, with time and use, only a few items have to be restocked. Refill the items that run low. Label each item so everyone understands its contents and place it in a visible area. Don’t simply walk off an injury. There may be glory but fair warning, there is going to be tons of pain.

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About the author

Dr. Pamela Q. Fernandes is an author, doctor and medical writer. Born and raised in Kuwait, she graduated from Angeles University College of Medicine, Philippines in 2007. Soon after that, she started her career as a medical writer and physician. Pamela is an advocate of preventive health, rural medicine, women’s health and tele-medicine having been active in these roles for the majority of her decade long career in medicine. She an Aikido practitioner. You can find out more about her at https://www.pamelaqfernandes.com.

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