"); // Deactivate Cloaking -->
Home Reference/Search About Dr. Bragman Related links Audio Library Free Press Column Library


Wrestlers have the reputation of being tough and able to withstand painand for good reason, since wrestling is a sport with a high incidence of injuries. According to the list of injuries compiled by the National Athletic Trainers Association, wrestlers suffer more injuries than football players at the high school level.

The typical wrestling injury is due to levered force rather than sudden impact. Wrestlers tend to become injured from the slow, continued strain on joints and muscles rather than from the explosive injuries characteristic of football.


Concussions are not common among wrestlers, but they do occur. Wrestling headgear covers primarily the ears and does not protect the head as a football helmet or boxing headgear does.

Skull fractures are rare because of the padding of the wrestling mat. The only time I see a skull fracture is when a wrestler comes off the mat and hits his head on the hard gym floor.

Broken noses, on the other hand, are fairly common because of the head clashing that takes place during matches. Stop any bleeding by applying pressure to the nose, and apply ice to bruised areas. Then have the nose x-rayed.


One of my biggest bugaboos with wrestling is cauliflower ear. The only way a wrestler can suffer this injury is by not wearing headgear. I see around 15 young wrestlers every season who need to have blood drained from their ears regularly to avoid cauliflower ear. Young wrestlers tend to think they won't be challenged as hard in practice, and they don't wear headgear because it irritates them. Wrestlers are required to wear headgear during matches, and matches are often stopped to allow wrestlers to reset their headgear. There's a good reason for this: Headgear is designed to protect the ears.


Stress on the neck from hitting the mat or from a half-nelson or cradle-type hold can sprain neck ligaments. This is basically a whiplash injury. The muscles in the back of the neck, along with the ligaments that hold the cervical spine in place, become overstressed and strained.

The stress of bending the neck forward or landing on the back of the neck can break off a piece of bone in the neck. Usually, it is the protruding bone at the back of the cervical vertebra that breaks rather than the body of the vertebra itself.

Do not move someone with a severe neck injury. Check to see whether the wrestler can move all of his extremities. Even if he can, call emergency medical technicians and wait for them to move the injured athlete.

A "burner" or a more dangerous brachial plexus stretch can occur in wrestling. A "burner" is caused by a pinched nerve in the neck, which sends pain down the arm. The pain is felt on the side of the body opposite the side that took the blow and disappears rapidly. As soon as the individual's strength returns and the pain is gone, he may wrestle again.

If, however, the wrestler feels this pain on the side of the body that took the blow, this is a sign of nerve damage and is a serious injury. He must not wrestle again until his symptoms completely disappear and his strength is back to 100 percent. Recovery time depends on the severity of the injury and may range from a few days to six months. In severe cases, the damage may be permanent.


The most common site of injury in a wrestler's upper body is the shoulder. Muscle strains, a partial dislocation, or a full dislocation can result from the rotational force applied to the shoulder in certain holds, such as the half nelson. These three injuries represent increasing degrees of the same process. Rehabilitation consists of exercises, such as those in Chapter 6, to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles in order to tighten the shoulder joint.

Landing on the point of the shoulder or the elbow can force the shoulder up and separate it. If the fall is hard, the wrestler may even break a collarbone.


A wrestler can injure an elbow by forcing it to go too far in a certain direction. Hyperextending the elbow tears up the front part of the capsule surrounding the elbow joint and the ligaments holding the bones together. Forcing the elbow out and away from the body sprains the ulnar collateral ligament on the inner side of the elbow.

The treatment for a hyperextended elbow is to keep it splinted for at least two weeks to allow it to heal. Then begin range-of-motion and gradual strengthening exercises. For an elbow ligament sprain, the treatment is basically the same except that the splint is kept on as long as three weeks, depending on how quickly the ligament stabilizes.

In severe cases, the elbow can become dislocated. This is a medical emergency. As the bones slip out of the socket, they can impinge on arteries and cut off the blood supply to the forearm and hand. The blood supply must be restored, or the victim will lose the use of his forearm and hand.

If the stress on the elbow is great, the bones can give way, resulting in a fracture.

The elbow is a complex joint. Do not attempt to rehabilitate it without consulting a doctor. There are rehabilitation exercises in Chapter 8 that you can do at home under the guidance of a doctor and a physical therapist.


Two common wrestling injuries are a sprained wrist and a broken wrist. Wrist sprains typically occur when your opponent pulls back on your hand, and fractures are usually caused by falling on the wrist.

As with any sprain, all but the most minor injury should be x-rayed in case a piece of bone has been pulled off, which makes the injury a fracture. For example, the bony tip of the wrist can be pulled off from overstress of the ligaments that attach to it.

A wrestler can break both bones of the wrist (Colles' fracture), producing what doctors call a silver fork deformity. The lower end of the wrist and hand become bent so that they are higher than the forearm. This gives the arm the look of an upside-down fork. The treatment entails realigning the bone to correct the deformity, casting the wrist for up to six weeks, and then doing range-of-motion and strengthening exercises to restore function.

Navicular fractures commonly occur when a wrestler tries to break a fall and lands on his outstretched hand. The navicular bone behind the base of the thumb heals slowly; it can take eight weeks to eight months to fully recover from this injury. A surgeon may need to graft a bone to the fractured wrist or insert a pin to help it heal.

A wrestler can fix a dislocated finger immediately by pulling it back into joint. If the dislocation is serious, it will require medical attention. The wrestler should ice the finger off and on until he can see a doctor.


Wrestlers are more likely to sprain their knees than tear ligaments or cartilage. All but the most minor knee injuries should be seen by a doctor.

It's important that a sprained knee be examined before it swells up too much. Examining a sprained knee is hardest on the day after the injury. By then it's sore, and the swelling makes it difficult for the doctor to see what's happened inside.

The wrestler or coach should tell the doctor how the injury happened. This is helpful in ensuring a correct diagnosis. In particular, he should note the side of the pain in relation to the side on which force was applied to the knee. If the pain is on the same side, the injury is probably a bruise, and it should be iced intermittently until the swelling and discoloration disappear.

Pain on the opposite side denotes a much more serious injury. The wrestler probably has stretched or torn knee ligaments from the force of the blow. If the knee clicks, buckles, locks, or gives way to the inside or outside, he probably has torn cartilage.

"Housemaid's knee," or pre-patellar bursitis, is also a hazard for wrestlers since one contestant always starts on his knees.


The wrestling shoe is high but provides little support for the ankle because it is soft so that it can grip the mat. An ankle sprain may occur as a result of tripping or stepping on the side of an opponent's foot or from stepping on the edge of the mat. The ankle turns over and sprains on the outside.

Treat a mild sprain with the RICE formula in Chapter 4, followed by the range-of-motion and strengthening exercises illustrated in Chapter 13. A more severe sprain may require prolonged rehabilitation or even a cast and surgery.

Don't bear full weight on the ankle until you can walk with a normal heel-to-toe gait. You should tape the ankle or wear a lace-up brace when you return to action to prevent another sprain.


Besides acute injuries, the biggest problem among wrestlers is weight control. Many wrestlers try to get down to the lowest possible weight so that they can be stronger than their opponents. In effect, they try to get the power of a 160-pounder into a 140-pound body instead of trying to increase their natural power at 160 pounds.

The coach of one of the most successful wrestling teams in my area understood that the amount of lean body mass compared to body fat is more important than a wrestler's weight. He built a wrestling dynasty by forbidding his athletes to struggle to make weight. Instead, he helped them pick their ideal weight class and showed them how to improve their strength at that level.

Methods to control a wrestler's never-ending quest to make weight have been tried in various states. For a long time New Jersey had what was called the 5 percent rule: No wrestler was allowed to lose more than 5 percent of his body weight. This didn't work very well because it allowed a tiny 100-pound flyweight to lose 5 pounds when he might not have 2 pounds of available fat to lose. At the same time, an over-weight 200-pound heavyweight could lose only 10 pounds when he may really need to lose 35 pounds to get down to his normal body weight.

Another method used is doctor certification of a wrestler's ideal body weight. A doctor estimates the wrestler's body fat and determines his appropriate weight class. The parents of young wrestlers must also agree that the wrestler can go down to this level.

This method depends on the doctor's ability to estimate how much weight the wrestler can lose safely. The doctor must not be swayed by the coach's and wrestler's desires to aim for an unrealistic weight level. That's why parents are involved, as a safeguard. This is the most widely used method and, in the absence of programs to measure body fat, is probably the most successful.

The only sensible way to determine a wrestler's proper weight is to measure his body fat. Then he will know the lowest possible weight he can achieve without losing strength.

Wrestlers will do almost anything to help them make weight on the day of a match. They will starve themselves, not realizing that they are depleting their carbohydrate stores and thereby making themselves weaker. They dehydrate themselves by wearing a rubber suit to make them sweat, or they may even take diuretics and laxatives just before the weigh-in.

The problem with all of these methods is that rather than getting to a specific weight and maintaining it, the wrestler binges after the weigh-in in hopes of becoming stronger. He also drinks a lot of water to rehydrate himself. If the weigh-in is a few hours before the match, he fills his stomach with food and water, which decreases the amount of blood available for the muscles in his limbs and weakens him further. After the match, he binges again because he hasn't eaten for days. He may regain five or six pounds that night. He must then lose that weight in three days to make weight again.

This is very destructive. A young, growing athlete should pick a weight, maintain it, and stop yo-yoing.

How to Improve Your Performance

Wrestling is a sport in which strength, speed, and endurance are all important. It requires intense, short bursts of activity. Energy output is extremely high during a six-minute match at the high school level.

Strength training is crucial. If the wrestler can increase his strength, he won't have to decrease his weight as much and then constantly worry about making weight. Gaining strength and controlling weight is the key to optimal performance.

Wrestlers need strong legs, but they particularly need to work on upper-body strength. All upper-body exercises are important, but wrestlers should focus on those involving the shoulder and the arm in the strength-training program in Chapter 1.

A full flexibility program is important to accommodate the stresses on the joints from various holds. Again, concentrate on improving shoulder flexibility.

Conditioning should consist mostly of interval training as wrestling involves short periods of maximum effort. Run long distances to build endurance, interspersing these runs with short sprints.

Home I Medical Reference/Search I Who is Dr. Bragman? I Health-related links
Prescription for Health Radio
I Detroit Free Press Column

Copyright 2000 BragmanHealth.com. All rights reserved. This site best viewed at 800 x 600 resolution.
Designed by C2G Media Group, LLC