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New AAP Report Encourages Safer Participation In Martial Arts

11/28/2016

Nation’s pediatricians offer guidance on injury risks among various forms of martial arts, including mixed martial arts

Karate, taekwondo, judo and other martial arts can boost fitness, motor skills and emotional development for the estimated 6.5 million youth participants in the United States. But these increasingly popular activities also come with injury risks, which are strikingly higher for some techniques and movements within various disciplines.

A clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in the December 2016 Pediatrics, “Youth Participation and Injury Risk in Martial Arts” (published online Nov. 28), promotes safer participation in martial arts by guiding families to choose non-contact forms of martial arts that provide health benefits but lower risks of serious injury.

"There are so many different types of martial arts for families to consider and enjoy, but such a difference in injury risk between the different non-contact and sparring forms,” said author Chris Koutures, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Executive Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. “We hope that this report will enable pediatricians to help families select the most appropriate options for their child and realize how strongly certain practices and rules can impact a participant’s safety.”

Most martial arts injuries, such as bruises and sprains, are not life-threatening. But more serious injuries such as neck trauma, concussions and fractures do occur, especially during free sparring in competitions. Injury rates vary from 41 to 133 injuries for every 1,000 athletic exposures, depending on the form of martial art. Protective equipment such as soft helmets and mouth and face guards are not proven to prevent concussions and may provide a false sense of safety, according to the AAP.

The AAP recommends martial arts competition and contact-based training be delayed until children and adolescents demonstrate adequate physical and emotional maturity. The AAP calls for the elimination of certain rules, such awarding extra points during tournaments for kicks to the head, a rule recently enacted in taekwando, that can have particular impact on concussion rates.

The AAP strongly discourages youth participation in practices common in mixed martial arts (MMA) such as direct blows to the head, repetitive head thrusts to the floor and choking movements, which can dramatically increase risk of concussion, suffocation, spine damage, arterial ruptures or other head and neck injury. The AAP also cautions against excessive media exposure to MMA contests, which can put children at risk of injury if they imitate what they see.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.