Muay Thai sparring is dangerous, but Muay Thai training is far less so. A study performed by the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that approximately 13.5 percent of training beginners can expect to be injured while practicing Muay Thai, compared to approximately 3 percent of training professionals.
However, the competitive contact sport of Muay Thai, in which two participants spar, can be especially dangerous, causing serious injuries from concussions to broken bones.
In this article, let’s explore the varying degrees of danger in the sport of Muay Thai, common injuries, and injury prevention technique so you can protect yourself when practicing this martial art.
How Dangerous Is Muay Thai Training?
Muay Thai training is not very dangerous, and you shouldn’t expect to be seriously injured. Unlike the striking sport of Muay Thai sparring, Muay Thai training is more about learning the punches, elbows, kicks, knees, teeps, and clinches that the professionals use in fights.
Much like people who train in kickboxing will never actually enter a ring, Muay Thai training is meant to be a great workout and exercise in fitness and self-defense. It is a non-competitive fitness regimen.
Overall, Muay Thai training is considered safe. Your coach will teach you how to perform the various moves safely, and instruct you if any safety equipment is necessary.
With that said, even non-competitive Muay Thai practitioners should expect some non-serious injuries such as bruises, bumps, and even minor strains. Most injuries will be considered soft tissue injuries and do not require medical attention.
How Dangerous Is Muay Thai sparring?
Muay Thai sparring is very dangerous and can land its participants in the hospital with broken bones and head injuries for the more competitive participants.
Muay Thai sparring is the competitive sport of Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing. As you’ll learn in training, sparring utilizes eight points of contact including swinging punches, knees, elbow strikes, and kicks to your stomach. This makes it that much more likely that someone will be injured.
However, some gyms will allow more experienced participants to spar with appropriate partners for their level, under supervision and with proper safety equipment. Since the objective is not to win but to improve, most people in a gym environment will keep the sparring lighthearted and fun.
Common Muay Thai Injuries
Injuries to lower extremities are most common in Muay Thai. Soft tissue injuries are common no matter your skill level (such as bruises and bumps), according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine study. Fractures were the second most common type of injury in that study. The injury rate for Muay Thai was found to be the same or similar to that of other contact sports such as Karate and Taekwondo.
Anyone training in Muay Thai through a gym can expect injuries such as:
- Bruised shins, since shins are one of the first lines of defense against kicks. You’ll also be kicking heavy bags with your shins, so it’s going to be really difficult to avoid bruises and bumps on this part of your body. Some people get shin splints because of the repeated injuries.
- Bruised thighs from leg kicks from sparring partners. This is one of the eight points of contact in Muay Tai and will be hard to avoid until you improve your reaction times.
- Bruised ribs from kicks and knees to your rib area during sparring or clinching exercises. Bruised ribs can be incredibly painful but are not a serious injury in most cases.
- Stiff neck as you develop strength in your neck from clinching. You’ll need to build up strength in your neck to further prevent this injury, but it is a right of passage in the beginning as you learn to clinch.
- Sprained muscles, such as ankles, feet, wrists, and other ligaments. Sprained muscles are not a serious injury, however you shouldn’t continue training if you suffer from a sprain because it can cause long term injury down the road.
- Head Injuries from Sparring. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, head injuries are most common in Muay Thai fighters who competitively spar, but also in amateurs who enter into a sparring session unprepared.Head injuries can range from loss of consciousness to concussions to other more serious traumatic brain injuries. A direct hit to the back of the neck, if hard enough, can prove fatal. That’s why moves like these are now banned in modern Muay Thai.
How To Prevent Muay Thai Injuries
To prevent Muay Thai injuries, make sure you’re practicing safely by using the proper equipment, receiving proper training, taking care of yourself before and after training sessions, and allowing yourself to heal if you are injured.
Proper Muay Thai equipment for training includes gloves, a mouthguard, ankle wraps, hand wraps, shin guards, and comfortable clothing.
For sparring, you’ll want heavier duty boxing gloves, headgear, groin protection, a customized mouth guard, and elbow and knee pads. As always in Muay Thai, mutual respect between you and your sparring partner should be observed at all times. This is not a win or lose situation, and strikes to joints and the back of someone’s head are expressly forbidden.
To prevent injuries, be sure to stretch before every session. Pay special attention to stretching your neck, shoulders, and back.
After each session, ice any areas that feel like they could be sore. Shins are a likely place to start, and some Thai boxing experts swear by using a muscle liniment oil on your shines before you start practicing to relieve pain later.
Look to your kru, or teacher, for proper training and always ask them if you’re ready to move on to sparring. Also ask your kru if you’re properly using equipment, such as hand and ankle wraps, to prevent wrist and ankle sprains.
When it comes to sparring, never spar without your kru’s express permission and endorsement. Allow them to match you to someone who is appropriate to spar with. As a beginner, you may think it’s best to spar with another beginner, but that’s not always the case. Beginners often go in hard and competitively, which could lead to injuries for both you and your partner.
Muay Thai is a combat sport that has become popular all over the world. It is often referred to as the “art of eight limbs” because it uses punches, kicks, elbows, and knees.
Training Muay Thai isn’t dangerous if done properly with the guidance of a kru. Sparring however, like most combat sports can be dangerous as you are likely to get punched or kicked. With proper training the chance of getting injured is reduced, just remember to train as much as possible before heading into a sparring competition.