The Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, a committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) focused on the well-being of young athletes, recently published a report focused on safety in martial arts. Scottish Rite Hospital Sports Medicine specialists Shane M. Miller, M.D., and Jane S. Chung, M.D., both members of the council, have answered some FAQs to help you interpret the clinical report and make safe choices for your children.
What are the most common injuries seen in children who participate in martial arts?
Dr. Miller: The most common injuries seen in martial arts include fractures (broken bones), ligament sprains, muscle strains and contusions (deep bruises). Concussions are also common in disciplines that involve striking or grappling.
What are the benefits of participating in martial arts?
Dr. Miller: These activities promote life skills like self-discipline, respect, self-control and confidence. Additionally, there are physical benefits that translate to general wellness and a lifetime of physical activity. These include: flexibility, muscle strengthening, balance and coordination.
What equipment do you recommend to make participation safer?
Dr. Chung: Certain martial arts such as taekwondo and those that involve contact like sparring require a soft helmet, mouth guards and body pads. This equipment is intended to decrease the risk of skull and dental trauma, face trauma-lacerations, abrasions, but do not prevent concussions.
Is there an age that is too young to participate?
Dr. Chung: There is no specific age that is too young to participate, however a child or adolescent should not proceed to competitions or sparring until they have mastered non-contact skills and drills, and are both physically and mentally mature as determined by their instructor.
The AAP strongly discourages participation in mixed martial arts (MMA) in the pediatric population. These typically include combat style fighting involving repeated blows to the head, chokeholds, takedowns and awarding total knock-outs or TKO’s. Also, awarding extra points for direct hits to the head should not be supported.
What is the key message of the clinical report?
Dr. Chung: There are various forms of martial arts, some require contact with other individuals, and some do not. It is imperative to understand the child’s capabilities both physically and psychologically. This level of maturity helps to determine if they are ready to progress to training and competition that includes contact. For some, sticking with non-contact forms of martial arts may be appropriate.
Dr. Miller: In addition to Dr. Chung’s comments, focusing on defensive and blocking techniques may reduce the risk of injury. Along with rule changes that eliminate blows to the head and points awarded for blows or kicks to the head, these can also help reduce the risk of concussions.
For information about injury prevention and pediatric sports medicine, please visit our website at scottishritehospital.org/sports.