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[Podcast] Contact and combat sport injuries

MSK Physiotherapist, Bupa UK
14 May 2021

Woody Al-Zidgali is a senior physiotherapist who works to rehabilitate elite athletes. In the latest Bupa Joint Approach Podcast, we chat about contact and combat sports. From rugby to boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA), Woody offers a fascinating view into how he treats and manages injuries. Listen to the podcast below or read on to find out more.

Key points from the podcast discussion

Woody reflects that there are overlapping injuries across contact sports. Rugby can cause lateral ankle sprains. It can also cause medial collateral ligament (MCL) or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, as well as groin, hamstring and calf muscle strains. The exact same injuries can occur in combat sports.

There's a lot of unpredictability in what will happen with contact sports. Rugby players, for example will be running into each other at high speed. In boxing, there may be wrist, hand, shoulder and head injuries.

Assessing athletes’ injuries

Before a combat sports fight, physiotherapists will assess any injuries athletes may have. They will look for injuries that may affect performance. They will also look for injuries that fighting may make worse. The physiotherapist and athlete may decide the fight should go ahead despite light injury. This is a tricky balance to strike and there are lots of factors to consider. Physiotherapists like Woody, have close relationships with orthopaedic doctors and can refer patients onwards for anything that may need surgery.

Common contact sports injuries

Fighters may have hand and wrist injuries. These can include fractures. Metacarpal fractures (at the bone at the palm of your hand) are most common. Such injuries happen often in mixed martial arts (MMA) fights due to the small gloves used. Athletes may work through injuries during fights. Adrenaline may spur them on, without them realising something is wrong. The same can happen in rugby matches.

Amateur rugby players or fighters may face higher injury risks coming out of lockdown. Especially if they haven't had much practice over the past year. Huge spikes in their level of activity will increase the risk of injury. People should generally try to keep their activity level as close as possible to 1:1 from one week to the next. They can then build up over time. The same applies to runners and participants in other sports.

The important role of physiotherapists

Physiotherapists have an important role in helping athletes to stay active. It’s important that they aren’t side-lined for too long. That prevents physical deconditioning. It also helps prevent injuries in the future. Experienced physiotherapists become good at knowing how far athletes can continue. But they also need to be clear about warning signs to look out for as you train.

There are many more points that we cover in the full conversation. So, do have a listen above, and please subscribe through your podcast app to keep up to date with future episodes. You can currently find this podcast on Spotify. It will be coming to Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts soon.


If you have a muscle, bone or joint problem, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get advice from a physiotherapist usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Adam Byrne
MSK Physiotherapist, Bupa UK

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