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By Dr. Victor Khabie, Nationally Recognized Sports Medicine Specialist:
Wrestling as a sport can be traced back to the ancient Olympics and has been practiced throughout the world in many forms and styles ever since. Today, wrestling is offered at various levels, from youth wrestling in middle school through high school, college and the Olympics. It's a sport for people of all sizes, both male and female, and competition rules that pair athletes against each other according to their weight class reduce the risk of injury. Nevertheless, injuries do occur. Wrestling is an intense and demanding sport, requiring a great deal of muscular endurance and strength. And it is a contact sport in which the body is contorted into many different positions, putting the muscles and joints under great stress. Overall conditioning, proper technique and the right equipment are essential to prevent injuries.
As with all sports, injury prevention must be a primary goal of all participants, coaches, and trainers. The wrestler should be coached and supervised at all times, stressing proper technique, proper equipment and discipline to avoid injury. Coaches and referees need to strictly enforce rules to encourage safe wrestling technique and the use of proper safety gear and equipment.
At both the high school and collegiate levels, wrestling ranks second only to football in injury rate. Most injuries are not serious and are similar to those seen in other sports: bruises, scrapes, strains and sprains. The most serious wrestling injuries affect the shoulder, knee and neck and are most commonly caused by forcing a joint beyond its acceptable range of motion.
Shoulder: Shoulder flexibility should be an essential goal of a conditioning program. Wrestling-specific workouts for the shoulder should include both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing exercises. Weight-bearing exercises such as push-up variations improve the stability of the joint. Also, rotator cuff strength, endurance and proper muscle balance should be addressed.
Knee: Maintaining strength of the quadriceps and hamstrings, as well as flexibility through the lower extremities, can help prevent injury to knee ligaments. The best way to prevent bursitis is to wear knee pads during practices and competitions. Knee pads help to limit the stress on the knee and reduce the force of any direct impact to the front of the knee.
Neck: Most wrestling related neck injuries are strains, sprains and whiplash (hyperextension) injuries. However, every neck injury should be treated as a spinal cord injury until ruled out by a medical professional. Spinal immobilization is the most important step in treatment. This will help prevent future damage to the spinal cord if it is involved. Dangerous holds and “slamming” moves should be avoided to prevent neck injuries. Some coaches teach wrestlers to keep their heads up when performing take-downs, to avoid compression or flexion of the spine, which can lead to serious injury.
A well-planned program that includes muscular endurance and strength work along with cardiovascular conditioning and flexibility training will not only reduce the risk of injury, it will improve performance as well.
Victor Khabie, M.D., F.A.A.O.S., F.A.C.S. is a nationally recognized specialist in sports medicine with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group. www.somersortho.com