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A little over a month and a half ago I fractured a bone (Fifth metacarpal, AKA behind the pinky knuckle) in my right hand- an apparently fairly common injury known as a boxer's fracture. (Note: The cause of injury was nothing to do with martial arts and/or boxing.) The cast has come off, and I've been doing physical therapy for about two weeks. Range of motion is back up to where I can do day to day activities alright, and getting better. However, I've been very strongly advised not to put any sudden pressure on it for at least the next two to three months, and that any strong impacts to that area have a good chance of messing it up again. Range of motion is also unlikely to get all the way back to where it was before.

TLDR? I can't make a fist with my right hand, and probably shouldn't hit anybody with it even if I could. This is true for the near to medium future.

Up till now, I've practiced Aikido, Capoira Angola, and Tai Chi. (Tai Chi when I was in high school, Aikido and Capoira in college, Aikido since I've been out of college.) Most Tai Chi movements seem salvageable by using my forearm instead of the hand, but I suspect most Capoira techniques are a bad idea onehanded.

I'm looking for recommendations on modifying the martial arts I do know to work without use of the last two fingers on one hand, preferably without using that hand at all. I prefer striking and/or throwing techniques. Current guess at how long the hand is going to be out of commission is two months at the earliest, a year at the longest. If you know of another martial art that operates just fine under this restriction, a recommendation is appreciated in case it turns out to take longer than I hope to fully heal.

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Are you asking about what to do for the next 3 months, or for the long term? –  Steve Weigand Aug 3 at 5:08
    
Yes. I certainly won't want to use that part of my hand for 3 months. If that's all the time it will take, then modifications to what I know would be useful. Hopefully, that's it. That said, one of the doctors mentioned that it would be weaker until I'd been using it normally for a while. Best guess right now is two months at the inside, a year at the outside. Updating question with specific timetable after realizing that 'medium future' was kinda vague. –  IgneusJotunn Aug 3 at 5:36
    
Can you hold objects? Might be a good time to play with a weapon art like escrima/kali or a knife art, as long as you're not doing impacts/blocking drills... it'd keep your arm moving, get some strength in your grip and be a useful skill to add on. –  Bankuei Aug 3 at 8:23
    
Escrima... Kind of hard to avoid impact. Most escrima students eventually have some kind of impact to their hand and fingers. Many broken fingers there. Sinawali drills are a big part of escrima practice, so it's kind of unavoidable in my opinion. –  Steve Weigand Aug 3 at 15:14
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I think you're kinda getting ahead of yourself. 3 months isn't that long a wait...if it heals well during that time, it's quite likely you'll be able to continue what you've been doing, but perhaps with some modification to reduce stress/strain. If it doesn't, then you can re-evaluate you options at that time. In the mean time, you can always work on footwork and/or stances. Footwork is just as important as striking/blocking. –  harmlessdragon Aug 4 at 17:56

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Virtually all of the martial arts use the hands in some way. Even Taekwondo, which uses mostly kicks during sparring, will use the hands to block and punch. Whereas, grappling arts use the hands to grab onto the gi or wrists or whatever. It's not uncommon in Brazilian Jiujitsu or Judo to sprain your pinky and ring fingers due to the fact that your grip entangles the fingers in the gi, and people are using a lot of force to escape that. Weapons based martial arts like escrima and silat use sticks and knives during training, and often there are impacts on the hand and fingers, causing sometimes significant injuries.

You might be thinking about martial arts that don't do much impact at all or even physical contact in general. Something like Tai Chi or Capoeira comes to mind. But in Tai Chi, it's not just solo forms practice you're doing. A "good" Tai Chi program will have push-hands practice, punching bag exercises, chin-na (grappling), throws, and even free sparring later on. Whereas, Capoeira doesn't make hard contact (usually) during practice, but you're often using your hands to push off of the ground, which puts significant load on the bones and tendons in your hand.

So one recommendation is to just stick with solo, forms-based martial arts for a while, and excuse yourself from any contact-based exercises within those martial arts.

Tai Chi is a good candidate, but really any martial art that uses forms is good. You just have to explain to your instructor that your hand is damaged, so you can't do any contact based exercises with it. Tai Chi is perfect, because it's very common to see classes structured whereby you have a forms class that's separate from push-hands and chin-na classes. At least in many Tai Chi schools. And Tai Chi is one of those arts that requires long term, almost obsessive focus on your form, so it's not wasted time in other words.

There's something else to consider also. That is, you can get a simple arm sling and make sure your arm is strapped to your chest the entire time. With your arm in the sling, it's immobile. You can't use it at all during class. So you'll be forced to work one-armed the entire time. And that may be useful in different ways. It would allow you to continue doing whatever martial art you want, so long as it can be done with one arm, and so long as you're careful.

Here's an example arm sling product, although I don't really know anything about its quality (Amazon reviews rate it highly, and it's cheap)...

http://www.amazon.com/Fitright-Airflo-Medical-support-breathability/dp/B004FIA904

Your hand may still be impacted, though. Like someone can punch or kick it, or you can fall on it. So it may not be ideal. You can wrap your hand in tape or wear a punching pad in addition to the sling, though. That would increase your protection. But it's not fool proof. There is still risk, and that's something you have to weigh.

By the way, another way to make your arm immobile would be to tuck it inside of your gi belt worn around your waist. So instead of being strapped against your chest, it's strapped at your side. That may be safer for you, or not. It depends on what martial art you're doing. You also want to make sure you have a wrist strap (with tape or velcro or something) that wraps around the gi belt to prevent you from withdrawing your arm from your belt.

My thoughts anyway, for what it's worth. If it were me, I'd lay off of it completely for 3 months like the doctor says, and then reevaluate then. I would definitely get the arm sling in the meanwhile, to prevent any accidental use. I'd do basic exercises like walking and running, crunches, one-armed push-ups (using knees or something), one-armed pull-ups (actually, pull-downs), and so on. That way, my strength and cardio wouldn't deteriorate too much. The doctor may recommend rehab, and I'd do that afterward. For martial arts practice, I'd stick with forms and solo drills. I'd probably take a hiatus from formal training in a school for those 3-6 months. Long-term, I'm pretty sure rehab and strengthening would allow me to return to full martial arts practice, but with some extra safety precautions, being mindful not to re-damage the hand. That's just me, though.

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I practice traditional japanese karate. I broke my middle finger and had to have surgery. I still practice. I practice with another karateka who is missing his entire left arm and another karateka who is missing a hand. In traditional Okinawa karate-do, having a missing or non working limb makes no difference to the practitioner.

PS. My friend who is missing his entire arm (up to his shoulder) also practices Okinawa Kobudo bojitsu.

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I felt kind of down when I first fractured a metacarpal - was worried how well it would heal, but several guys at the dojo reacted along the lines of "oh yeah you too", and in the end it was a bit of a non-event - few weeks' rest and eased back into it. Six months later it was an irrelevancy. Of course, some injuries are worse than others, but my real point is that a break here and there's not unusual and there's no point anticipating the worst - deal with what comes.

For aikido it's tricky as all the wrist grabs and locks put pressure on that part of your hand, and the breakfalls put significant shock through the limb even if you avoid the hand... if based on your knowledge of the training and instructors you feel you can actually partake in an appropriately limited fashion, then do so, but if you think you'd be kind of expected to have a go at things you really shouldn't be doing, then best stay away, or turn up after formal class and see if you can get in half an hour here and there with a partner on known-safe or one-sided practice - timing and footwork would be good things to work on. Solo taichi practice is never wasted time (as long as you're sufficiently introspective and analytical), so stick to that if you're at a loss for what to do. Learning something entirely new isn't worth it for a three-six month period... nothing is likely to be better suited than solo taichi practice anyway.

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