When you think of high school sports, one of the first things that come to mind is wrestling. According to Statista, more than 250,000 students participated in the sport between 2018 and 2019.
However, there are concerns about its safety because of the high level of contact involved, and many people wonder whether wrestling is dangerous.
Is Wrestling Dangerous?
Wrestling is potentially dangerous because of its physical intensity and the high number of injuries. For example, injuries like neck sprains, knee injuries, shoulder dislocations, ankle sprains, head injuries, and skin infections are very common in this sport.
In the rest of this article, I’ll show you the dangers of wrestling, the injuries associated with it, and how to prevent these injuries.
What Are the Dangers of Wrestling?
The dangers of wrestling include injuries, blindness, excessive or unhealthy weight loss, brain damage, and skin infections. As with most sports, the extent of the dangers of wrestling increases depending on the athletes’ age, susceptibility to injuries, sizes, contact forces, and fighting styles.
While physical injuries present the highest risk for wrestlers, it is also worth considering the other dangers involved.
Let’s look at each of them separately.
Unhealthy Weight Loss
In wrestling, it’s not hard to find athletes cutting weight to gain a competitive advantage in a weight class. Unfortunately, many of them use unsafe methods like food restriction, dehydration, excessive exercise, laxatives and emetics, self-induced vomiting, or other methods to achieve this goal.
One of the most commonly used methods is extreme calorie reduction. However, this practice often results in a significant loss of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients.
What’s more, calorie restriction may weaken your bones and cause muscle loss.
Many athletes also believe that dehydration is an effective weight-loss method. Ironically, this method causes an adverse physiological effect on their body.
In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, researchers found that a combination of calorie restriction and dehydration resulted in fatigue, anxiety, and poor performance. These methods can result in the following:
- Kidney failure
- Brain swelling
- Death in extreme cases
The best way to avoid these problems is to lose weight healthily.
Drinking plenty of water, reducing fatty foods, eating smaller and more frequent meals, getting plenty of sleep, and consuming a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables are some scientifically proven ways to lose weight.
Because of the level of skin-to-skin contact in wrestling, skin infections are prevalent among athletes. The sweat produced during a match or practice is a perfect breeding pool for bacteria and viruses.
The most commonly reported skin infections in wrestlers are:
- Herpes simplex
- Tinea corporis (ringworm)
- Bacterial skin and soft tissue infections
While these conditions may not sound too severe, the bad news is that they can spread fast. An athlete typically has contact with not only the opponent but also with his team members.
So, the possibility of contracting an infection and spreading it to the entire team is very high.
Since contact is inevitable, proper individual and team hygiene are the best ways to prevent skin infections in wrestling. These measures include:
- Regular hand washing
- Showering after every match or practice.
- Laundering uniforms and gear with detergent and hot water.
- Regularly washing and disinfecting wrestling mats and wall pads.
- Performing daily skin checks before practices and matches.
- Reporting any skin infection or lesions to a healthcare professional.
- Using a non-scented moisturizing lotion to keep your skin from getting dry.
- Avoiding sharing towels, soaps, athletic equipment, razors, or hair clippers.
What Are the Most Common Injuries in Wrestling?
The most common injuries in wrestling are shoulder dislocations, knee injuries, elbow and ankle sprains, head injuries, and neck injuries. Many of these injuries occur when you extend a joint beyond its normal range of motion.
Besides these injuries, constant use of force or repetitive impacts on the body can result in conditions like bursitis and instability. The severity of an injury can be different from athlete to athlete.
Arm and Shoulder Dislocations
These injuries are caused mainly by the repetitive impact of an athlete falling or being thrown on the mat. Other causes are restrictive holds, blows to the shoulder, and rotation of the arm.
Treatment depends on the severity and may include surgery, closed reduction, and immobilization.
Minor injuries may only require physical therapy and taping.
The most common knee injuries in wrestling are the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) and Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) injuries. These ligaments are often at risk when the leg is twisted.
Another common knee injury is prepatellar bursitis, which occurs when the bursa becomes inflamed due to the constant impact of the knee on the mat. Treatment may include antibiotics, inflammatory medication, physical therapy, or surgery, depending on the type and severity of the injury.
A knee injury will likely require you to take some time off wrestling.
Some wrestling moves can put the neck in a vulnerable position and result in an injury.
One of the most common cases is a cervical sprain or strain, which occurs when there is a tear in the tendons in the neck. Usually, you have to force your neck beyond its normal range of motion in a quick manner for you to sustain a sprain.
Treatment involves heat, ice, muscle relaxants, and physical therapy. Cases of rupture are rare but will require surgery if it happens.
Head and Face Injuries
Some of the most common injuries to the head and face are nosebleeds, cuts or scrapes, concussions, and cauliflower ears. Nosebleeds and cuts usually require some form of treatment to stop the bleeding.
In the case of concussions, the wrestler has to stop fighting immediately and be treated.
Cauliflower ear occurs due to constant friction and bruising of the outer ear. It can cause deformity if left untreated.
Because you are constantly arching your body awkwardly in a wrestling match, your ankles often twist as well. When you turn or twist it beyond its normal range of motion, you tear the ligaments surrounding and supporting it.
You can treat minor ankle sprains at home with ice packs, rest, and elevation. Severe cases will require the attention of your doctor.
How To Prevent Injuries in Wrestling
Wrestling is a highly demanding sport, and the best way to prevent injuries is by using good technique and appropriate protective equipment.
Here’s how to prevent injuries in wrestling:
- Wear headgear and a mouthguard to avoid injuries to your head.
- Train and stay in good physical condition.
- Use knee pads and braces to protect your knees, ankle, and elbows.
- Wear fitted wrestling shoes for ankle support.
- Eat healthily and manage your weight in a safe manner.
- Practice proper hygiene to prevent infections.
Wrestling, just like every other sport, has its dangers. While it is more dangerous than sports like swimming, running, or basketball, you can still take measures to prevent injuries or at least reduce their risk.
Ensure you use the appropriate headgear, mouthguard, knee pads, and braces to prevent injuries to your head, mouth, knees, ankles, and elbows. Training and staying fit during the season and off-season also helps to avoid injuries.
Don’t forget to practice good weight management and proper hygiene.
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- Statista: Number of participants in U.S. high school wrestling 2018/19, by gender
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Weight Loss Practices and Nutrition in Wrestlers
- Sports Health: Cutaneous Infections in Wrestlers
- NFHS: Prevention Key to Reducing Skin Infections in High School Wrestling
- Karger Publishers: Wrestling Injuries
- Medicine Net: Knee Bursitis
- Ann Intern Med: A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial
- J Int Soc Sports Nutr: Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete
- Med Sci Sports Exerc: Patterns of weight loss and regain in wrestlers: has the tradition changed?