Thai Boxer Down — Injuries
Written by Don Heatrick
It's easy to get carried away when preparing for a fight. I've seen many fighters 'self destruct' at this time and get injured – myself included.
Injuries such as these either fall into the traumatic (sudden accidental) category, or chronic over use. Traumatic injuries are always possible, and can spontaneously occur by chance — that clash of knees in sparring for example. All you can do is be mindful of the risk/reward of different activities at different stages of your training. For example, I don't like fighters sparring in the final week leading up to a fight. I personally consider the risk of injury too high, and the performance improvement benefits to be minimal – it's too late to make any changes that will stick (see motor pattern learning).
However, overuse injuries can be avoided if your training volume and intensity is properly managed. Supporting strength and conditioning work should target injury prevention by balancing strength, mobility and stability in different areas of your body before attempting to improve performance. Muay Thai stance, although defensively strong, encourages bad posture and will result in poor postural compensations if not countered with deliberate correctional exercise. I've suffered from this myself and know first hand.
What to do if the $#!+ has hit the fan
I'm by no means a physiotherapist, but I like to use the following patterns of recovery after the initial acute recovery phase:
For muscle and tendon injuries, begin with passive stretches to regain flexibility, followed by specific strengthening exercises targeting the injured muscle group, and finally building to functional exercises in which the injured muscle works in coordination with it's surrounding muscles and normal patterns of movement are established.
For joint injuries, begin by strengthening the supporting muscles surrounding the joint to regain stability, and then exercises to regain mobility before again employing functional, dynamic exercises.
I've always found that passive stretching following an injury works really well when soaking in a warm bath. This strategy uses the hot water to thoroughly 'warm-up' the affected area making it much more pliable without having to aggravate the injury with loaded movement. It's still an uncomfortable practice, but I've had a lot of success systematically regaining range of motion following an injury with this method.
Strengthening work begins using closed chain exercises (ones in which the hand or foot on the affected limb remains static against an immovable surface such as the floor), ensuring the correct biomechanical patterning of joints. For example, squats for lower body and push-ups for upper body. Progressively build the load and increase the range of motion slowly, and avoid shock load initially (no jogging, bounding, skipping, jumping, punching, kicking etc).
If all this goes well then add some gentle shock loading on forgiving surfaces (think balance and technique practice rather than power). Again, be progressive in terms of the impact and the duration that you train for - start small. Monitor how you feel after each 'experiment' and gauge whether to increment your current training intensity/volume up or down.
I hope this helps you get going again following an injury, but please be guided by your rehabilitation professional who has hands-on access to you and can monitor your movement quality too. Best of luck with your rehab, and please don't give up - mindset is incredibly important to a fighter, especially during times of injury.
This article was followed up with Training an Injured Muay Thai Athlete.
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Don is an ex-pro fighter, Muay Thai and strength & conditioning coach from the UK, with over 25-years experience in combat sports and athletic conditioning. He is passionate about all things that lead to improved fight performance and loves sharing what he's learned (and continues to learn) along the way.
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