As a fighter and an athlete, you understand the importance of protecting and preserving one of your primary assets — the structure and function of your feet.
But how well do you know your feet? You know when they hurt, as they contain more nerves than anywhere else in the body, but do you know how they work and how we damage them?
As a highly complex mechanical system upon which you rely on to be able to kick, move, skip, walk, run and get around, each foot consists of 26 bones (a quarter of all the bones in the body), 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons, an intricate network of muscles, nerves and blood vessels, plus 250,000 sweat glands that produces approximately 500ml of perspiration daily. Your feet will not be the same shape; one will be larger than the other (greater than 50 per cent of the population has a larger left foot), and one will move differently than the other. Your feet are capable of enormous array of movements whilst absorbing cumulative weight-bearing forces of hundreds of tonnes each day.
You’ll be taking in excess of 10,000-15,000 steps per day, with each step generating between 1.5 and three times your bodyweight. That equates to walking over 128,000kms in your lifetime — more than three times around the earth.
The intricate structure of the human foot was described by Leonardo DeVinci as, “a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” However, as the only pair of feet you will ever own, they need to last you a lifetime. A better understanding of what your feet need to tolerate, and how martial arts damage them, will help you keep your feet kicking.
Genetics play a major role in the predisposition, or proneness your feet have to injury. The shape of your joints, the attachment of the ligaments and tendons, the structure of your legs, knees, hips pelvis and spine all influence the way your feet function. Whilst you cannot change your structure, you can, with a little knowledge and foresight, care for your feet and ankles to minimize time loss to injury and maximize their performance.
What Causes Common Types Of Fighting Injuries?
Foot and ankle injuries are a normal part of martial arts. Blunt force trauma and sprains are the two basic categories of martial arts injuries that occur in the foot and ankle. Blunt force trauma injury is a direct result of the foot hitting another solid object. The object could be the heavy bag, a target mitt or your opponent. Misjudging the opponent’s intended next move or improper technique can result in blunt force trauma. As a result, you may suffer a contusion, a laceration or a fracture to your foot or ankle.
Like any type of injury, foot and ankle problems in fighting can be classified in different ways. Kickboxing emphasizes rapid foot strikes and ballistic full contact, which can result in contusions (bruises) and lacerations of the skin, ligament sprains, tendon and muscle strains and bone or joint fractures.
Research into the rate and type of injuries occurring to registered professional kickboxers in Australia, using data describing all fight outcomes and injuries sustained during competition, shows a total of 382 injuries recorded from 3481 fight participations, at an injury rate of 109.7 injuries per 1000 fight participations. The most common body region injured was the head/neck/face (52.5 per cent), followed by the lower extremities (39.8 per cent). Specifically, injuries to the lower leg (23.3 per cent), the face (19.4 per cent), and intracranial injury (17.2 per cent) were the most common. Over 64 per cent of the injuries were superficial bruising or lacerations. Foot and ankle account for at least 10 per cent of the total injuries sustained in the martial arts — and is probably higher due to the lack of reporting of many digital injuries such as contusions, toenail trauma and uncomplicated fractures.
What Are The Risks?
Some of the factors that can increase your risk of injury include:
- Poor technique – holding or moving the body incorrectly can put unnecessary strain on joints, muscles and ligaments. The surface you train and fight on can have an influence here.
- Using excessive force – failing to pull a punch or kick can inflict injury on an opponent.
- Inexperience – beginners are more likely to get hurt because their bodies are not used to the demands of the sport. Injuries are seen throughout the spectrum of expertise. Amateur participants are the most likely to sustain sprains and soft-tissue injuries. Among professional fighters, the main risks are fractures and life-threatening injuries to other parts of the body, namely the head.
- Overtraining – training too much and too often can lead to a wide range of overuse injuries.