Muay Thai is a highly effective martial art for self-defense and is known to be quite violent. Although, how dangerous is Muay Thai? I decided to find out
Muay Thai can be dangerous if you fight professionally but for the casual Muay Thai student, the risks are quite minor. If you are training for fun and not fighting you might occasionally get a bruise and even western boxing is a lot more dangerous than Muay Thai due to getting hit on the head more often.
Although if you’re Sparring there always will be risks no matter what sport, but Muay Thai can be trained relatively safely. I will expand on Muay Thai being dangerous and if it hurts and answer any other questions you might have.
How Dangerous Is Muay Thai?
The problem with this question is it depends on your goals. Are you someone who just wants to get fit and improve their cardio? Or do you want to fight or even compete with Muay Thai shortly? I will discuss how dangerous the sport is depending on where you stand
If Your A Casual Muay Thai Practitioner
A lot of people who train at my gym are not professional fighters nor do they want to fight competitively, they just like the fitness aspect of the sport and the fun and confidence they get from improving themselves
If you find yourself falling in this category the risks of injury are very low and even lower than something like Soccer or Football as with those sports there’s a risk of collisions that easily can break bones.
Most Muay Thai sessions will start with a warmup involving the following things. If you don’t have a rope check my personal recommendations and sizing guide on this page
- Skipping 5-10 minutes
If you have a decent level of fitness it is very unlikely you will pick up an injury during a normal Muay Thai warm-up. Only if you have a heart condition or never did exercise before is there a risk.
I highly recommend doing some light cardio either jogging or doing some skipping circuits that you can find on YouTube before you go to your first Muay Thai class, to reach an adequate level of fitness.
You will also hit the bag with various punches, kicks knees, and elbows and this carries a small risk of injury if you perform techniques improperly. I hurt my knee kicking the bag so you need to be watchful.
You must hit the bag with proper technique and there’s a risk of injuring your wrist if you’re not careful. You should always wear hand wraps and a pair of training gloves when hitting a bag. You can see my recommendations and buying guides for wraps here with the best gloves here.
You will find you will get bruises from kicking and kneeing the heavy bag in your gym, depending on the bag itself. Now, this DOES hurt but your shins will condition themselves in a few weeks.
Check this video out for a guide on how to hit the heavy bag which should help you when you start training!
Now pad work is a key in Muay Thai and carries with it a low- medium risk of injury.
It involves one person holding a pair of Thai pads(see my best recommendations here), for the other person to strike with punches, elbows, knees, etc.
Just like bag work you must make sure your hands are properly wrapped up and your wearing good quality gloves. Holding pads is meant to be simulating a fight so as you improve your pad guy/girl will throw some light kicks and punches to test your skills.
These strikes will be very light and your pad man will be wearing shin guards so there’s no shin to shin contact. Click here for my best shin guard recommendations and sizing guide as you need them if you want to spar.
However, since you’re working with another person this carries a lot more risk. If one of you makes a mistake, you could easily kick their elbow or even for the men they’re crown jewels! I can tell you from experience this isn’t fun.
If you’re bad man/woman is more experienced or is your coach you don’t have to be worry, but you’re new you both new you to be careful. As a pad man, you should expect some bruises on your wrists and some pain from holding the strikes but these will go with time.
Please check out this fantastic video by fightTips on how to hold Thai pads properly, your future partners will thank you!
If You Want To Take Muay Thai More Seriously
Now if you want to make your Muay Thai training more seriously and use it for self-defense, you need to spar. I say the risk you will get injured with Sparring is medium.
In this post, I wrote about if you can train Muay Thai without fighting, whilst you definitely can train without fighting, to take your training to the next level you should spar.
Sparring should be a very light and controlled fight simulation between two people who are not trying to win, but rather have a dance with each other and test each other’s techniques and fight reactions. Click here for the Sparring headgear and buyers guide that I recommend for beginners.
Never should you be using all your power in Sparring, only use around 10%-30% of your power, and if someone is hitting too hard please tell them as they might not be aware.
Never try to hurt someone when sparring, instead, have a plan of implementing your techniques and do things like work on your defense and movement if you’re better than the other person.
Even with full protective gear, with gloves shin guards, mouth guard(see my recommendations here)Sparring still carries with it a decent amount of risk as you are simulating a real fight.
Kicks and punches will land with more power than you thought, and knee clashes and shin collisions are common. The worst I’ve been injured is just some small cuts and sprains.
If you’re sparring light with the control you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. To see an example of light technical sparring watch the video below.
If You Want To Compete In Muay Thai In Competitive Fighting (High Risk of Injury)
The biggest danger of Muay Thai is without a doubt fighting competitively against other fighters from other gyms.
Fighting competitively in any sport is dangerous as depending on the level you are trading full power punches and kicks with another person and depending on the level knees and elbows to the head are allowed if it’s full Muay Thai rules.
Any injury from broken bones, concussions, cuts, and bruises can happen at this level as it’s the nature of the combat sports!
This level of dedication shouldn’t be taken lately, and you should only consider seriously competing in Muay Thai only after you trained for a couple of years.
See the video below of the top 10 Muay Thai knockouts to see the true brutality of the sport
Does Muay Thai Hurt?
Now aside from the intense feeling of muscle soreness following the days after training, you most likely will suffer injuries and get hurt from Muay Thai via sparring.
But the injuries should be relatively minor and in a few days you will be training as normal.
I will list the top 10 injuries that you are most likely to get in Muay Thai and how to prevent them.
List Of Muay Thai Injuries
Now, this injury is common especially if you don’t turn your hip properly so you kick with your foot instead of the shin. The majority of shin guards will have an area around the ankle that doesn’t have any protection which leaves your ankle open
Now you can also get a sprained ankle, I got this injury because when my coach swept me I didn’t go through with the fall. Make sure you immediately spray the foot/ankle with a cold spray to reduce swelling and inflammation.
How To Prevent It. Make sure you turn your hip in and/or don’t kick your opponent’s elbow. If you want extra protection purchase an ankle guard such as this Sanabul ankle guard. Get the best price on Amazon here.
These injuries happen if your hands are not properly wrapped up or you punch the punching bag with too much power or likely the wrong angle, causing your wrist to bend the wrong way and feel painful.
Since the wrist is so involved with Muay Thai make sure you take a few days off to give your wrist time to heal, as you cannot punch or clinch properly with a wrist injury.
How to prevent it. Ensure your wrists are properly wrapped out, look at the video below for a guide on how to properly wrap your wrists. Punch the bag with more precision and less power focussing on technique.
By far the most common injury for Muay Thai and you everyone goes through this pain. When your shins are not conditioned they will feel pain when you start kicking the heavy bag and the pads.
Only through a process of bone calcification(bones getting calcium) which happens overtime will your shins not hurt.
You cannot get strong shins straight away and only overtime will your shins properly be conditioned. Now, this process is LONG but be patient and your shins will get more conditioned over time t,his I can promise.
How To Prevent It. You must slowly work on your shin conditioning over time, don’t go crazy and force your shins to the condition it must happen naturally. Hitting a heavy bag is the best way.
Or view Sylvie von Duugla a professional Muay Thai fighters method of treating shin pain, dents, and bumps that you can access in the video.
Pulled/Strained Neck Muscle
This will likely happen because of clinching, as clinching is a very good neck workout as you resist your opponent grabbing your neck but it can cause damage if your neck is untrained.
Also due to modern times are necks lack mobility, but if your neck is strained just wait a few days for the pain to go away but stretching the neck will reduce this recovery period. Over time your neck will get stronger.
How To Prevent It a strained neck. You must do neck stretches to work on your neck mobility or train your neck with weights to make it stronger. During clinching so not allow your opponent to grab your neck, instead, use your arms as a guard to stop any neck attacks.
Low kicks are a very important part of Muay Thai and if you ever spar against someone who has a great low kick, you will feel it the day after! Low kicks simply hurt.
Although in Sparring low kicks shouldn’t hurt too much and you will get used to the pain
How To Prevent It. You must block your low kicks, to reduce the damage your legs are taking simple as that. Blocking low kicks is a very important part of Muay Thai and you will remember to check the kicks when you feel the pain of a low kick.
The problem with blocking head kicks with your arms is over time this will hurt your elbow, especially if your fighting someone who is bigger than you.
Usually, this will happen if your sparring someone who usually throws kicks at arm level. You must get in the habit of leaning back as absorbing kicks with your arms is a bad habit.
How to Prevent It. You prevent this by focussing on light technical sparring and leaning back against your opponent whenever they kick you which reduces the damage your arms will take.
Headaches And Concussions
You shouldn’t have a headache after Sparring but it will happen if you sparred too hard, or sparred when you were a beginner and had no defense and got hit hard, which happened to me.
If you ever feel dizzy or just not right days after sparring makes sure you take time off. If you ever get knocked out don’t spar for a while even if you feel fine.
How To Prevent It. Try not to spar with people who go 100%, and just improve your general Muay Thai defense. Or just don’t get hit. Sounds easy right?
Injured Knees(Torn ACL/Sprains)
One of the worst Muay Thai injuries you can get, and depending on the injury you could be out for several months.
The problem with knee injuries is since during sparring you’re both kicking each other knee clashes are bound to happen so having strong knees is very important.
How To Prevent It. Avoid sparring with someone who purposely teep or kick their opponent’s knee as this is quite dangerous.
Most knee injuries are random and occur when knees collide or whenever you slip or get swept. Making sure you’re lean and your knees are strong is a good way to prevent them from being injured.
If you want to know more about how to treat knee injuries/pain, in general, please check out my post here.
Running is a crucial part of Muay Thai training and in Thailand, it’s common to run once or twice a day, so foot injuries are waiting to happen.
A common injury is plantar fasciitis where the connective tissue of the foot tear, causes extensive heel pain that can keep you on the sidelines for a long time.
How To Prevent It. Run-on soft surfaces like sand or grass and make sure you wear fitted running shoes for your gait and foot type. Also, you can strengthen your muscles with barefoot exercise and stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon to loosen them up
If you want specific exercises to check out Doctor Jo’s a licensed Doctor of physical therapies on specific stretches and exercises to fix the issue down below.
This also relates to running and it refers to pain along the inner edge of the shinbone (tibia). Shin splints are caused by your body having issues such. like flat feet, running with improper footwork, and weakness in the core muscles.
How To Prevent It. It’s important to stretch the calves and hamstrings, and strengthen your foot and ankle using the exercise in the above video. Ensure your wearing proper footwear and stay at healthy body weight.
Is Muay Thai More Dangerous Than Boxing?
I think western Boxing is more dangerous than Muay Thai as you get punched in the head more often, and I usually feel worse after Boxing sparring than Muay Thai sparring.
Although there are reasons why Boxing is more dangerous which I will go into.
Why Boxing Is More Dangerous Than Muay Thai
Boxing Has More Rounds Than Muay Thai
At a professional level, the rounds between both sports are very different. Boxing has 12 rounds that each last 3 minutes and Muay Thai have 3 or 5 rounds that last 3 minutes, so it’s 36 minutes vs 15 or 25 minutes of actual fighting.
Also, the first 1-2 rounds in Muay Thai are traditionally a lot slower as the real action happens in the 3-5 rounds; Muay Thai has a rich betting history and most of the gambling happens during the fight before the third round starts which is why in Thailand fights start slow.
This doesn’t happen as much in Boxing so the potential brain damage is increased in boxing as the time of getting hit is so much higher than Muay Thai making it a more dangerous sport.
Although with Boxing only contenders, champions and elite boxers fight 12 rounds. When you start Boxing you only fight 3 rounds of 2 minutes so it’s similar to Muay Thai, with newer professionals fighting 4 rounds working your way up to 12.
If you want to see the differences between Boxing and Muay Thai and if you can train them together, check out my post here.
Muay Thai Sparring Is More Technical Than Boxing Sparring
Boxers tend to spar harder and not as intelligent as Muay Thai fighters, just look at the countless boxers who suffered the consequences of how they trained most notably Mohammed Ali. You can see more examples in the video below.
Muay Thai fighters in contrast spar very light at around 10%-20% as they fight very often. It is common for a Thai fighter at 20 to have 100 fights. Perhaps this is why Boxers spar harder.
A boxing manager will carefully pix their fighter’s opponent to maximize their fighter’s advantage and improve their record. Since Thai fighters fight more often they must go light in Sparring, but with Boxing, they don’t fight often so Sparring harder does in some ways make sense as they have less fighting experience and must simulate a fight in the gym.
Muay Thai Has More Tools Than Boxing
The biggest reason why boxing is more dangerous than Muay Thai is head and body shots with the fist are the only strikes in Boxing. This leads to repeated brain trauma as the skull keeps on getting hit. Even body shots especially liver shots are not safe and are potentially deadly.
You might think Muay Thai is the art of 8 limbs makes it more dangerous than Boxing but this is not the case. Knees to the body in the clinch are very effective at dropping your opponent and they land more than knees to the head.
Elbows can knock you out but elbow cuts can cause cuts to prematurely stop fights before a knockout and brain trauma can occur. The damage is mostly superficial.
Leg kicks are common and can end fights by themselves, and so can body kicks and head kicks can KO an opponent if clean. Overall there are many ways you can finish your opponent in Muay Thai without too much head trauma involved.
But with Boxing, you only have the head and torso to target with heavy 16 Oz gloves that allow someone to not only get hit harder but more often due to the padding. This causes repeated trauma to the head, and over 12 rounds are extremely dangerous for the body.