It’s no secret that injuries are common in mixed martial arts (MMA) and its most popular organization, the Ultimate Fighting Champion Championship (UFC). Minor cuts and lacerations are commonplace in an MMA fight. However, the injuries don’t stop there–more severe injuries like fractures, ligament tears, and head injuries are also common.
The following injuries are some of the most common among MMA and UFC fighters.
Broken bones are one of the most common injuries in MMA and UFC. MMA and UFC fighters sustain hits with very little, if any, protective equipment. The bones can endure quite a bit of stress in these fights, and bones can break. Broken bones can occur just about anywhere, but common areas include the tibia (shinbone), arms, elbows, and hands. Facial fractures are also very common, particularly in the nose and the orbital bone. The face and the shins are common targets in MMA fights, so fighters are most prone to fractures in those areas.
Depending on the severity of the broken bone, the surrounding tissues and skin can also be damaged. Treatment will depend on the type of break in the bone, the location of the break, and whether or not there is damage to the surrounding tissue. Some fractures in the arms and legs can be repositioned and placed in a cast to heal properly, while more severe fractures may require surgery to place fixation devices like metal rods, pins, and screws.
Surgery is generally not necessary for a broken nose unless the septum is damaged and is obstructing the patient’s breathing; in that case, reconstructive surgery may be needed. In the case of mild orbital fractures, the bone may heal on its own, but more severe cases may require surgery and the placement of a titanium plate to support the bone.
Although MMA and UFC fighters do wear gloves, they don’t necessarily protect the hands from all injuries. Broken fingers, ligament tears, and jammed fingers are all common hand injuries in professional fighters.
Jammed fingers and minor ligament tears and fractures can often heal without the need for surgery. In some cases, a cast or brace may be needed to immobilize the area as it heals. For more severe fractures and torn ligaments surgery may be needed. The goal of surgery for torn ligaments is to reattach the ligament. For severe fractures, pins and screws may be needed to restore proper alignment in the bones.
The knees also undergo a great deal of stress among UFC and MMA fighters. The knees are often twisted or forced into awkward positions during fighting maneuvers and grappling. It is very common for fighters to tear the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), or meniscus.
In some cases, these injuries can be treated with nonsurgical methods like rest, ice, bracing, and physical therapy. If a ligament tear is severe, or nonsurgical treatment does not help, surgery may be recommended. Surgery for a torn ACL or PCL includes repairing the torn tissue with a tendon graft. Meniscal tears cannot always be repaired, but a surgeon may surgically trim away any damaged meniscal tissue.
MMA and UFC fighters do not wear any protective head gear, and are therefore susceptible to head injuries. Though fighters are not allowed to strike another fighter’s head or face with a 12-6 (straight up-and-down) elbow, or hit the top or back of another fighter’s head and neck, other head and neck hits are still allowed.
It is very important that referees and fighters are able to recognize the signs of a concussion; if a fighter sustains a concussion and continues to be hit, it could lead to permanent brain damage. Also, if a fighter returns before a concussion is completely healed and sustains another concussion, he is at a higher risk of developing a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This condition is also common among professional wrestlers and football players, who also sustain repetitive head trauma.
MMA and UFC fights can be brutal and result in serious injury. Stricter regulations have helped, but the ultimate goal should be to take the fighter out at the first sign of injury to prevent a more severe injury.