Safety Tips: Wrestling

Wrestlers like the idea of competing one-on-one to see who’s stronger and quicker. So when the action starts, injuries are bound to happen sometimes. To keep things as safe as possible, follow these tips.

Why Is Wrestling Safety Important?

Minor injuries, like bruises, scrapes, and bloody noses, are common in wrestling. So are sprains and strains. Less common but more serious injuries include shoulder separation or dislocation, patella (kneecap) dislocation, and prepatellar bursitis (irritation and swelling of the fluid-filled sac in front of the kneecap).

Other wrestling injuries include concussions and cauliflower ear, a condition in which parts of the ear become swollen and deformed.

Wrestlers also can get friction burns and skin infections like ringworm and impetigo from dirty mats.

In addition, to lose weight quickly before a weigh-in, some wrestlers:

  1. starve themselves
  2. exercise to the extreme
  3. take weight-loss pills
  4. let themselves get dehydrated

All four are dangerous ways to lose weight and should be avoided.

Gearing Up

To reduce the risk of injuries, there are a few things to think about when it comes to gear:

  • Headgear. At the middle school, high school, and college levels, headgear is required for all wrestlers. Headgear is sometimes called “ear guards” because it has padded shells that go over the ears to help prevent ear and head injuries. Headgear should fit correctly and all the straps should be secure.
  • Kneepads. Some wrestlers wear kneepads on one or both knees. A knee hitting the mat over and over again can cause swelling. Padded kneepads can help prevent that. Another type of kneepad, called a shooting sleeve, has less padding and is designed to help knees slide across the mat to help prevent mat burns.
  • Shoes. Wrestling shoes are light and flexible, but they should still provide ankle support and traction on the mat. Be sure to get ones that fit correctly and keep them tied securely with the laces tucked in.
  • Mouthguards. Mouthguards are a low-cost way to protect the teeth, lips, cheeks, and tongue. Players in all active sports should consider using mouthguards. In many school districts, mouthguards are required for wrestlers who have braces.
  • Athletic support. If you’re a guy, you’ll appreciate having a good athletic supporter when you’re on the mat. Girls should consider wearing a good sports bra.

Before You Hit the Mat

Getting yourself in good shape before wrestling season starts will help make you a better wrestler and go a long way toward preventing injuries. Start working out and eating right a few months before the season begins. Better yet, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet year-round so you won’t need to worry about getting in shape for the season.

Here are some other things to keep in mind before you hit the mat for practice or a match:

  • Losing weight the wrong way can leave you feeling sluggish and weak and hurt your performance. It also can lead to serious health problems, like dehydration, hyperthermia, and heart problems. If you have to slim down to wrestle in a certain weight class, make sure to do it gradually while still eating a healthy diet. Don’t let a coach or anyone else talk you into doing something dangerous to make weight.
  • Wrestling mats should be cleaned with a disinfectant cleaner after every match or practice. Make sure the mat you’ll be using gets cleaned before you wrestle on it.
  • Warm up and stretch before you start wrestling. Do jumping jacks or run in place for a couple of minutes to warm up your muscles before stretching. Dynamic stretching uses many muscle groups in a sport-specific way, so ask your coach about stretches to add to your warm-up. It’s a good idea to stretch after a match or practice, too.
  • Get a sports physical. Many schools won’t let athletes participate unless they’ve had a sports physical. If your school doesn’t require or schedule an exam for you, have your parents take you to your own doctor. He or she will make sure you’re physically able to wrestle and can review sports safety with you.

While You Wrestle

Quickness and technique are just as important as raw strength in wrestling. Proper wrestling technique involves holds and moves that give you an advantage without the risk of an injury to your opponent. Holds and moves that are meant to hurt or injure an opponent are illegal and could result in a disqualification.

Try to avoid positions and holds that can put extra stress on the shoulders, elbows, and knees. A referee should be on the lookout for dangerous positions during a match, but you should also be aware of them during practices.

If you get a cramp or feel pain while wrestling, ask for an injury timeout. This will give you time to figure out how hurt you are. If the pain doesn’t go away immediately, withdraw from the match. It’s better to lose one match than to miss many of them or even the rest of the season because you tried to wrestle through pain and made an injury even worse.

A Few Other Reminders

  • If you’ve been practicing or competing in matches and you notice a skin rash on your body, report it to your coach right away and don’t do any wrestling until the rash is completely healed or a doctor says it is OK to compete.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids before, during, and after practices and matches.
  • Don’t chew gum or have anything in your mouth besides a mouthguard while wrestling.
  • If an opponent does something you disagree with, don’t take it personally, and never start a fight with your opponent.

Most wrestling injuries are minor and get better quickly, and many can be prevented by wearing protective gear, including headgear and mouthguards, and using the right technique. To help prevent skin infections, keep the mats clean and stay off them if you have a skin infection. That way, instead of wrestling with rashes and injuries, you can focus on wrestling your opponent.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2015