Traumatic Injury Profile: Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Published by Shauna Burchett, OTR/L on

two men fighting mma with boxing gloves

To kick off (no pun intended) our new “Injury Profile” series I thought “Why not start with a sport that causes a ridiculous number of injuries?” So I looked into MMA – not too surprising, the potential for injury is limitless and a little gross…

What Is MMA?

Mixed Marital Arts (MMA) started in the early 1990’s and is one of the fasted growing sports in America, with a viewing audience rivaling wrestling or boxing. Similar to wrestling and boxing, the goal is to incapacitate your opponent either by knocking them unconscious, beating them to the point they can’t fight any more, or injuring them to the point the doctor says its too dangerous to continue. In an effort to keep things from getting too barbaric, there are few rules: no headbutting, throat grabbing, etc. That being said, broken arms, legs, ankles, noses and jaws are pretty common.


What Kind of Injuries Are Typical of This Sport?

Given the nature of this sport, that question seems kind of ridiculous… there are so many different kind of injuries possible, either from the fights themselves or all the rigorous training involved in preparation. Broken bones, sprains and muscle tears are a given, but scar tissue and other symptoms can develop from other traumas too. To cover the basics, take a look at the highly technical illustration below:

MMA injuries


What Kind of Long-Term Problems Can Result from These Kinds of Injuries?

Scar tissue build up can cause chronic pain and limited mobility. Also repeated head injuries can lead to headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), hearing loss, disrupted vision, sinus problems and TMJ (jaw) dysfunction. Trauma to the neck and spinal column can lead to nerve damage which can lead to numbness and tingling down the arms and legs as well as digestive disruption. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, current studies show that fighters with a long career (over 10 years) show damage to  the caudate (vital for learning and memory), putamen (regulates movement) and amygdala (involved with emotions and memory).


How Can Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Help?

When treating such involved traumas there are several techniques that the staff at Synergy can use. Craniosacral Therapy is great for relieving chronic pain as well as helping injuries to the brain and spinal column heal. Myofascial Release can reduce scar tissue and improve range of motion. Visceral Manipulation can help release abdominal trauma’s as well as helping to release pain throughout the body.

Shauna Burchett, OTR/L

Shauna Burchett, OTR/L is a skilled occupational therapist and the owner of Synergy Healthcare. She graduated from the University of Alberta in 1993 with a degree in Occupational Therapy. Shauna began her career as an occupational therapist specializing in traumatic head injuries. She has also worked in skilled nursing facilities specializing in long and short term geriatric rehabilitation. Shauna has been in private practice since 1998.