Ankle and Leg Injuries in MMA

It’s and obvious statement to say that injuries are extremely common in mixed martial arts, but in disciplines that maintain a high focus on kicking, lower limb injuries become even more prevalent, especially in the lower leg and ankle. In this article, we would simply like to touch on some of the more common injuries, as well as some urgent ones to look out for, and in some cases we will provide a couple ways to prevent these injuries or improve your rehabilitation process.

Lower Leg Injuries

By “lower leg” we are mainly referring to the shin area. Of course, knee and thigh injuries are also common, but we will save those for a later article. In terms of the lower leg, you don’t even need to be involved in mixed martial arts to guess that the sudden impact of the shin on another person’s body (especially if it’s another bone) will not only hurt, but result in mild to traumatic injury.

Traumatic injuries like fractures or dislocations are extremely difficult to prevent, and in those cases you will be prescribed appropriate treatment or surgery and will receive guidance throughout the recovery phase. However, slightly milder injuries could end up being long term nagging injuries that eventually become rather debilitating.

Stress Fractures

For example, blows to the shin, either from a block or a kick, can result in localized trauma to a small portion of the tibia or fibula (usually tibia because it’s the largest and most prominent shin bone). At first, this may take on the appearance of a bad bruise that is easily recoverable. However, if you find you continue to have problems during training that slowly escalate, this can be a sign of a stress fracture. These are especially felt during and after endurance training exercises like long distance running.

So what’s the difference between a stress fracture and a normal fracture? Normal fractures are apparent cracks or breaks in the bone that occur at the time of injury and are fairly apparent. With stress fractures, there may not be any form of crack or visible damage to the bone, but there has been enough damage and inflammation to effect the rate at which bone is being remodelled. It’s important to note here that bones aren’t just heard “dead’ objects, but the tissue is actually constantly being broken down and replaced by new tissue. When these types of injury occur, something happens that makes the bone resorption occur at a faster rate than it can be replaced, so it gradually weakens in that area. This is still a hot topic in sports medicine research, as the exact mechanism by which this plays out is still unclear.

Over time, as you continue to train, the repetitive stress that is placed on the bone will eventually lead to a small fracture developing. This is the stress fracture. It is common in runners and other endurance athletes, but is also quite common in MMA fighters who sustain trauma to the lower leg and proceed to train, especially if running and jumping is part of the regime.

In the case of a stress fracture, treatment varies by individual, so it will be up to the doctor or physiotherapist to decide what the best course of action is to take. That said, it’s important that if you suspect things are getting worse, be seen right away. Even if it just feels like a small nagging injury, you may be saving yourself lots of time and rehabilitation by catching it early.

Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprain are tremendously common in MMA. Not only from kicking or rolling the ankle during training, but also from grappling and wrestling on the mat. If your foot becomes planted but your body is forced into another direction, this is a recipe for ligament tears in the ankle.

So what? People get ankle sprains all the time. However, one of the reasons they are so important to rehabilitate properly is that once you sprain an ankle (which is the partial or full tear of an ankle ligament), it becomes even easier to sprain that particular ligament again in the future.

Treatment and Prevention

Therefore, when returning from an injury like this, it’s important to be very careful until you have rebuilt enough muscle strength and reacquired sufficient proprioception to help avoid any re-injury. For example, many fighters think that running is a low-risk method of condition, which usually is true. However, stepping off a curb or hitting some other uneven surface can be all it takes when you are returning from a sprain. This is why we now advice many fighters to use an ankle brace for running when they are training. Braces are extremely helpful devices for preventing injury, and they can make the difference between a year of successful gains and a year of being laid up on the couch.

They are helpful enough that you can get braces for almost any injury that leads to joint instability, whether it be the ankle, knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, etc. However, many people are unfamiliar with what they need and what is even available to them. We have to admit that we are not experts in this field, but have often referred to Brace Access for guides to different braces as well as different types of injuries in sports, and how they relate to the anatomy of the body, so check them out for more information.


At the end of the day, you can never completely eliminate the risk of injury, especially in a sport like martial arts. However, by knowing as much as you can about the topic, what the most likely injuries are, and things to look out for, you can maximize the chances that you will remain in the ring and training hard, rather than constantly being laid up with an injury. These are just a couple different suggestions of things to think about, but the more you know the better, so don’t be afraid to browse the web and do some research on your won. Another great way to learn more is simply by chatting with other fighters and trainers about their experiences with injury, and learn from them and what they did, or didn’t, do to help themselves recover quickly and stay healthy.

Updated: August 12, 2017 — 4:04 am
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