Mixed martial artist Ken Shamrock has seen it all throughout his 16-year career and has had broken bones from head to toe. He’s suffered a broken neck, wrist, foot and hand, in addition to tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
If you play a sport, expect to get injured at some point during your playing career. Certain sports are more likely to hurt you than others. The injury rate in football, for example, is 100 percent.
MMA is no exception to injury, and its athletes are prone to a few not too pleasant injuries.
Something noticeable about fighters’ appearances is their swollen ears. This is an external deformity known as “cauliflower ear” and is seen in many of today’s fighters.
Cauliflower ear, or auricular hematomas, is caused by direct trauma—a blow to the ear is one way it is caused. When trauma occurs, the ear bruises and the torn vessels bleed. This leads to blood and fluid collection in the ear, which separates the cartilage and often causes new cartilage to form. This new cartilage does not usually grow symmetrically, which is why fighters’ ears look swollen and deformed.
Athletes prone to cauliflower ear include wrestlers, mixed martial artists, grapplers and rugby players, and it is sometimes thought of as a badge of honor by athletes.
Despite this, cauliflower ear is not something to take lightly because it brings major health effects and risks, as well as pain. The ear could possibly become infected, so antibiotics may be needed. If it remains untreated, the ear will harden and the ear drum often ruptures, making stitches necessary. Hearing loss often occurs with cauliflower ear.
To drain the fluid, a compress is needed to help strengthen cartilage and to avoid future fluid buildup. To prevent cauliflower ear, wearing some type of headgear is highly recommended.
Fighters often choose to still compete when suffering from cauliflower ear. However, other serious injuries may occur in a match, leaving fighters unable to compete in future events for some time.
According to an injury report from John Hopkins University School of Medicine Department for MMA (2002-2007), it was reported that in over 600 professional MMA matches, there was a reported general injury rate of 23.6 percent (300 out of 1,270 fighters).
The most common injury reported was lacerations. Other injuries included hand, nose and eye injuries, as well as various upper extremity injuries. This confirmed a previous study done by the same university from 2001-2004, which also reported that up to four injuries may have been recorded for each fighter during a match.
Hand injuries have been common in recent events. In a June 2009 fight against Mike Brown, Urijah Faber broke his right hand during the match and fought through the pain to lose by decision. His left hand also was injured as well.
Also noted in the study is that concussions were documented in three percent of matches. Concussions are a brain injury that occurs occasionally in full-contact sparring sports due to a blow to the head. They often lead to long-term damage. Every year, there are around 300,000 sports-related concussions.
The study concluded that overall risk for sports-related injury in MMA is fairly low. This is often attributed to the strict rules that the sport has in place to prevent injury. In addition, depending on the severity and type of injury received, a medical suspension may prohibit a fighter from competing for a set amount of time. This allows a fighter time to rest and heal.
Despite precautions, mixed martial artist Zach Kirk broke his neck and was paralyzed in May 2009 in an event in Iowa. Doctors are unsure if Kirk will regain his ability to walk.
Other injuries that mixed martial artists are prone to are broken bones, knee ligament tears and ankle or shoulder sprains. These injuries usually do not occur in training situations.
Well-known fighters to receive other various injuries include B.J. Penn who broke a rib during a match against Matt Hughes, and Matt Serra who suffered from a herniated disc.