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So, I mentioned this on chat when responding to the fellow who was begging the question of whether more injuries result from training than being assaulted, and I figured I'd follow through. Years ago, when I strained my groin doing a high kick, coming back to TKD after a few years of no normal training, my teacher claimed that the majority of martial arts injuries involve one person, and are the result of people coming back to training after a break. Namely, he said that humans are pretty close to naturally able to throw high kicks and fast punches, but our brains hold us back because it's harder to stop that kick or punch before it causes injuries, resulting in strained muscles and hyper-extended joints when you throw the strike, or do the stretch, and can't stop in time. When you used to practice a martial art, you "know" you can stop safely, and are more likely to hurt yourself when you cannot.

Is there any truth to this, or was the teacher passing a myth on to me?

  • Err… Your title and the question in the body do not really match. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Jan 25 '17 at 8:24
  • Hmm... my intent was to have both reflect "are the majority of injuries in people returning to the martial arts after a break?" Can you suggest how I might clarify the body? – Sean Duggan Jan 25 '17 at 10:47
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    I think you have two questions here: One is "Is an injury more likely after returning to training after a break?" and the others is "Does the practice of martial arts removes some of the natural inhibition to to protect joints and muscles?" … Or something like? – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Jan 25 '17 at 10:56
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    The braking is nicely explained in this comment: martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/2362/… I suppose during a break, muscles get shorter again, but mentally you'd try to still reach as far as before the break, resulting in pulled muscles (as explained in this comment: martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/648/…) Mind you, this is all just speculation from my part. All I'm going on, are two comments and putting one and one together. – Raf Jan 25 '17 at 13:37
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There is a truth in there, however... it sounds like your instructor either didn't understand fully what was going on or had it explained incorrectly.

Re-injury in sports in general

I don't know if the majority of injuries happen as a re-injury, but it is common. It is a combination of the previous injury generally leading to problems and opening up for more injury (especially around joint and tendon injuries), and that people push too fast and too hard because they're eager to get back into things.

Basic tissue recovery happens in a matter of weeks at top, but restrengthening muscles, or adaptations around scar tissue usually take months of rehabilitation, and the problem is that you can get to "good enough to do daily tasks" relatively quickly, but not "safe for full sport action" as well. (High end professional athletes sorta get around this through having a full set of doctors, specialists in bracing & taping, and full immediate care when injuries happen. Instead they pay their dues a few years down the line when everything else breaks down...)

Self injury

Your muscles and joints have specialized proprioception nerves that deal with speed of contraction/stretching. A basic evolutionary adaptation is that if a joint is being moved "too fast", the opposite muscle will contract, attempting to create a "braking" action, to stop the joint from getting hyper extended. On the lowest end, this slows down your movement, or maybe causes a cramp. Higher up, you get a full muscle strain or tear, as muscles heal faster than joints, so it's a worthwhile sacrifice as far as your biology is concerned.

The solution for this is slow warm up to the action you plan on doing, eventually getting up to full speed/force. This allows the nerves to re-adapt to the movement and speed to expect without contracting and causing tears.

Stretching done to the range of motion you expect can help. Stretching outside the range of motion you are going to do, destabilizes the joints and opens you up to more potential for injury. This is why studies tend to be here or there when it comes to stretching helping or hurting - wrong stretching hurts, good stretching helps.

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I'm unaware of any studies done on the topic. But I've been teaching for almost 15 years, and have been a student for 35 years. I've run the gamut from Olympic and ITF Taekwondo, to Shotokan Karate, to Wing Tsun, to Hapkido, and to Aikido.

And so I'm going with myth.

Namely, he said that humans are pretty close to naturally able to throw high kicks and fast punches

This is a joke. That's why we train - to learn how to do what this clown says we are naturally able to do.

Acute injuries, like sprains and bloody noses, are due to accidents, while chronic injuries, like osteoarthritis, are due to training methods.

Some forms of improper training - like improper warmups, stretching, or conditioning - can lead to acute injuries, which can lead to chronic ones. Torn ACL, hernia, dementia pugilistica, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy can all be caused by repeated acute injuries.

I've seen dozens of people coming in from long hiatuses, and never once did they get injured because their brain said "yes" while the body said "no".

Really: who does that? Who stops training for a few years, then out of the blue comes to class and starts where he left off, raring to go? Nobody does that. They take their time, they stay in the back of class, they come in once a week. They ease into their training. Some may ease into where they left off, others fall short.

While there might be a few who've done that, the number of injuries I see are far and away caused by accidents with students who are not returning from hiatus, than by those who get injured because they overestimated their ability to return to where they left off.

In fact, it's the people who DON'T take time off from training who I see are more likely to get injured. Chronic fatigue, and boredom, lead to instances where mistakes are made because the student is not paying attention, or who is compensating for injury or fatigue.

Bottom line, though, I don't see any injuries resulting from returning on hiatus, to say nothing about a majority of injuries.

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