Identifying the Tell Tale Signs of an Injury

Kung fu masters can do some amazing things because of body conditioning, control, and brute strength. Chinese kung fu master Li Liangui practices suogugong, or body shrinking kung fu, a little known style of kung fu that teaches dislocation of bones. 

Liangui is 70 years old, and contorts his body into positions that hurt just to watch. He says it’s an amazing complete system and he’s open for students. Master Wei Yaobin is known as the kung fu “Iron Crotch,” with balls of steel, who demonstrates receiving a full-on kick to the genitals, slammed with a brick, and bashed with a huge wooden pole, all to the privates without even a wince.

Then there’s the kung fu master who walks on his hands with a rope around his waist pulling a 2204 pound minivan almost 33 feet down the street. In the even more intense category is footage of a martial artist having his assistant use an electric drill to drill right into his head. This one’s hard to watch. It drew little blood, and the martial artist survived the ordeal. This one probably isn’t practiced. Specialized conditioning and training makes kung fu a martial art that results in relatively few training injuries.

Martial Art Training Is Dangerous

Some of these masters do things that are definitely dangerous—if you’re not trained and conditioned to that amazing level! However, part of martial arts training is teaching you how not to get hurt. Intensity of training, preparedness of participants, who typically start learning how to fall, evade being struck, and other protective measures from their first day of training helps prevent injuries. It is also because martial arts teach emotional and physical control, so the least amount of force will typically be used during training and sparring.

Incidence of Injury Varies With Style of Martial Art

Certain styles have a higher level of injury, such as full contact muay tai and  krav maga, while others have lower rates of injury, such as kung fu and tai chi. There are hundreds of different martial arts styles, some little known like suogugong (see above), kalaripayattu, kuntao, and bando. Judo is the most popular and practiced martial art style in the world. In the U.S, however, karate and taekwondo hold that position.

Martial Arts Have Lower Risk of Injury Than Football or Soccer

Risk of injury is lower in martial arts than in other contact sports. Injuries definitely happen! However, as anyone who has ever trained in MMA will tell you, it doesn’t happen as often as expected. Certain martial arts styles do have a higher incidence of injury, so likelihood of accidental injury also depends upon which type, training school, and instructor are chosen. In martial arts emphasis is always placed upon safe movement that does not harm joints and muscles, protection of self and other, when training involves more than one participant and danger of injury rises.

Difference between Signs of Injury and Symptoms of Injury

Sign of injury is a term meaning physical signs of injury, what can be seen or observed from the outside by another person. Signs of injury would include: heat at injury site; uneven pupil dilation; joint appearing swollen, red, or misshapen; limping, favoring a limb or area; injured person losing consciousness; bone piercing skin; injured person obviously confused or dazed; bleeding, wounds, cuts or bruises, etc.

Symptoms of injury is a term meaning information about the injury or accident given by the person who was injured. Symptoms of injury would include: feeling dizzy or confused; eye sight problems such as spots, fuzziness or difficulty focusing; pain; tingling; loss of memory; inability to move limb or joint; inability to feel a certain area, etc..

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The ancient art of Tahtib is a 5,000 year old martial art that was taught in the ancient Egyptian army. It was part of three primary military disciplines learned by Egyptian troops, together with wrestling and archery. Adel Boulad, who is responsible for reviving and documenting Tahtib as an Egyptian martial art, says it’s a combat form using two sticks, and the intention is to “destroy the other man’s head.” Tahtib is one martial art that undoubtedly results in multiple signs and symptoms of injury when practiced like the ancient Egyptian army did.

Pay Attention Over Time

There will be times when an accident happens, a martial artist gets hurt, and the injury is immediately obvious, along with clear signs of whether the injury is acute or merely incidental. The difficulty here is that a sports injury may appear to be merely a little bump, bruise, or skin abrasion, when it’s actually very serious and acute.

An intense training session could leave the practitioner with seemingly minor aches and pains, but actually have long-term consequences if warning signs are not noticed. That’s when it can become a debilitating problem.

Jet Li began learning wushu at the age of eight in Beijing, China. It was intense. Jet Li described his wushu training as “bitter,” and as a teenager was forced to continue practicing eight hours a day for two days on a foot with the bone broken completely through.

A good example of that type of injury would be training to do martial arts throws. One person is greatly outweighed by the other, but succeeds in performing the throw correctly, practicing over and over again in class. However, the day after that training session, a little ‘hitch’ is felt in the lower back by the smaller person, which swiftly develops over the next few weeks into extreme pain radiating up and down the back, and finally becomes debilitating sciatica making it difficult to walk.

This type of issue may require a specialty sports chiropractor, to shift a vertebra back into correct position after it was displaced by repeatedly lifting too much weight for the strength of the back muscles to handle, pulling a vertebra out of alignment. 

Or it could be the new karate practitioner who pushes herself to keep up with classmates doing heavy bag straight punches that first day. But her form isn’t good enough yet, and wrist strength is lacking, so she develops nagging wrist problems. It is easy to minimize the pain or injury during the excitement of training or class, but a close eye should be kept on any injury, no matter how slight it appears in the moment.

Pay Attention to Pain

Pain that worsens swiftly, over a few days or weeks, or pain that seems to start relatively small, even feeling more like stiffness or normal soreness, but then it hurts in your back to move, or makes it difficult to breathe deeply. Pain in back or joints that begins to radiate down a limb, or shoots pain into sciatica down your hip, buttocks, leg/s, higher up your back, or into your shoulder or neck should always be taken seriously.

Often the most common sign of an acute sports injury is also the most obvious. Pain or swelling in the joints of your knees, ankles, elbows or wrists following intense training or exercise can be the first symptoms that something is wrong, especially if there is still pain or swelling more than 48 hours after the injury occurred.

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The film Once Upon a Time in China, starring Jet Li was actually written about a real martial arts master living in the late 1800 to early 1900s who became a Chinese folk hero. Wong Fei-hung was a renowned Hung Gar Kuen martial arts fighter and physician made famous by the Chinese people because of his tireless work helping the common people, such as founding a clinic where he taught martial arts, acupuncture, herbal medicine and bone-setting.

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Wong Fei-hung’s father was a kung fu master who was one of the famed “Ten Tigers of Guandong,” one of the ten top martial artists in southern China. Fei-hung’s father taught him many secrets of the southern Shaolin fighting monks. A rival master challenged Fei-hung’s father to a fight, but instead, Wong Fei-hung at thirteen years old fought the rival master and vanquished him easily.

Increase Training Intensity Levels Slowly!

Protect your bones. The reason that training intensity levels need to be increased slowly is to give the ligaments, tendons, muscles, bones, and body time to prepare. Bones will gradually become stronger and denser over time, and able to withstand harder, more intense training. The key here is ‘gradually,’ giving bones time to destroy old cells, create new ones, remodel and increase density.

Build stronger bones. Martial arts are great for strengthening and rebuilding bones to be tougher and denser. Bones have a strengthening process called remodeling, which means bone tissue is destroyed by bone resorption, and then rebuilt in an adaptation process that results in greater bone strength and density. This process takes time.

That is why training loads must be increased slowly and gradually to give bones time for this adaptation method to occur. Otherwise, if training is increased too quickly, remodeling does not proceed normally. The normal remodeling speed will increase so that more bone tissue will be destroyed than is rebuilt, resulting in weaker, more fragile bones very vulnerable to stress fractures, rather than stronger and denser bones.

Proof martial arts increases bone mineral density (BMD). Scientific studies of judo, karate, and kung fu adolescents clearly prove that for both sexes, martial arts training increases BMD. 

Six Injury Warning Signs

  1. 1
    Joint pain should never be ignored. If it hurts—there’s a reason. The knee, ankle, elbow and wrist joints are particularly vulnerable to injury. They should be examined and the reason for pain discerned, whether it is a movement issue, such as doing stances incorrectly, stress, or previous joint damage that has already occurred.
  2. 2
    Tenderness that occurs in a specific spot is a warning sign. If it hurts when pressing in one specific spot on bone, muscle, or joint, that is indicative of possible injury. Pressing the same spot on the other side of the body is a good test. If there is pain in only one area, have it checked immediately.
  3. 3
    Swelling is typically a clear visual sign, but occasionally an area may feel puffy or swollen but not visually show it. Swelling is always an obvious sign of a sports injury and should never be ignored. Often, a joint may swell up and cause pain, create stiffness, or there may be a clicking sound. This is another indication of injury. Clicking means that swelling has occurred, changing the shape of the joint, causing the tendons to snap over one another because they’ve been pushed into a new position.
  4. 4
    Reduced Range of Motion. Gently attempt to move the injured joint, if possible. Reduced range of motion, or total immobility in a joint means there is swelling, whether currently visible or not. Comparing the injured side of the body with the uninjured side will aid in assessment. Significant differences mean the injury needs medical attention.
  5. 5
    Comparative Weakness. If the injured person is able to lift or push, one way to compare the injured joint to the uninjured joint on the other side of the body is comparative strength or weakness between the two. Try having the injured person lift or move a weight with both sides for comparison purposes, if possible.
  6. 6
    Numbness and tingling are important warning signs that may indicate nerve compression or damage. Never ignore numbness or tingling. These are possible indicators of acute injury and require medical attention.If any of the above warning signs appear, discontinue your activity and seek medical advice from your healthcare professional.