Wrestling Season Has Begun...And It's Time to "Hold" the Line Against Injuries

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Sports medicine specialist and assistant clinical professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery at New York University School of Medicine Dr. Victor Khabie offers tips on preventing wrestling related injury.

Wrestling as a sport can be traced back to the ancient Olympics and has been practiced throughout the world in many forms and styles ever since. Today, wrestling is offered at various levels, from youth wrestling in middle school through high school, college and the Olympics. It's a sport for people of all sizes, both male and female, and competition rules that pair athletes against each other according to their weight class reduce the risk of injury. Nevertheless, injuries do occur. According to sports medicine specialist Dr. Victor Khabie of Somers Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Group, “Wrestling is an intense and demanding sport, requiring a great deal of muscular endurance and strength. And it is a contact sport in which the body is contorted into many different positions, putting the muscles and joints under great stress. Overall conditioning, proper technique and the right equipment are essential to prevent injuries.”

According to Dr. Khabie, who serves as team physician for several schools, “As with all sports, injury prevention must be a primary goal of all participants, coaches, and trainers. The wrestler should be coached and supervised at all times, stressing proper technique, proper equipment and discipline to avoid injury. Coaches and referees need to strictly enforce rules to encourage safe wrestling technique and the use of proper safety gear and equipment.

At both the high school and collegiate levels, wrestling ranks second only to football in injury rate. Most injuries are not serious and are similar to those seen in other sports: bruises, scrapes, strains and sprains. The most serious wrestling injuries affect the shoulder, knee and neck and are most commonly caused by forcing a joint beyond its acceptable range of motion.

The majority of upper body and shoulder injuries in wrestlers are caused by the combination of leverage and twisting during competition. Rotator cuff pain is common in young athletes, usually caused by muscle strains and tears that arise from overuse. An acute tear is more serious and might result in wrestling from falling on an outstretched arm. The most common traumatic shoulder injury in wresting in young people is dislocation, in which the head of the upper arm bone comes out of the socket, either partially or completely. Shoulder strengthening exercises, braces and, in some cases, surgery may be recommended to prevent recurrence.

Dr, Khabie adds that shoulder flexibility should be an essential goal of a conditioning program. “Wrestling-specific workouts for the shoulder should include both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing exercises. Weight-bearing exercises such as push-up variations improve the stability of the joint. Also, rotator cuff strength, endurance and proper muscle balance should be addressed.”

Knee injuries constitute a significant number of all wrestling injuries. During a match, the knee may be twisted and turned in many different directions.

  • The ligaments supporting the knee are under a great deal of stress trying to hold the knee together and may be stretched or torn. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the posterior cruciate ligament, and both the lateral and medial collateral ligaments are subjected to external forces that could cause tearing. The ACL is the most commonly sprained in wrestling. A partial tear will require immobilization, ice, and rest to help with recovery. A complete rupture may require surgery and many weeks of recovery.
  • Prepatella bursitis, the inflammation of the sac (bursa) located in front of the kneecap (patella), is caused by the front of the knee constantly hitting the mat. It is treated by anti-inflammatory medication, ice, and rest.
  • The meniscus is a “C”-shaped disc made of tough cartilage and is very important for absorbing shock between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone). Most injuries to the meniscus occur from a hit or other direct trauma to the knee. Sudden turning or twisting motions of the knee may also cause a tear. Serious meniscal tears typically require surgery that either repair the tear or completely remove the torn portion of the ligament. It may take 6-8 months to fully recover after surgery.

Maintaining strength of the quadriceps and hamstrings, as well as flexibility through the lower extremities, can help prevent injury to knee ligaments. The best way to prevent bursitis is to wear knee pads during practices and competitions. Knee pads help to limit the stress on the knee and reduce the force of any direct impact to the front of the knee.

Neck injuries can be caused by throws, especially those done incorrectly, and holds where the wrestler's head is caught at an awkward angle. The cervical vertebrae are often forced into vulnerable positions, which can result in several types of neck injuries. Most are strains, sprains and whiplash (hyperextension) injuries. However, every neck injury should be treated as a spinal cord injury until ruled out by a medical professional. Spinal immobilization is the most important step in treatment. This will help prevent future damage to the spinal cord if it is involved. Dangerous holds and “slamming” moves should be avoided to prevent neck injuries. Some coaches teach wrestlers to keep their heads up when performing take-downs, to avoid compression or flexion of the spine, which can lead to serious injury.

Dr. Khabie concludes that a well-planned program that includes muscular endurance and strength work along with cardiovascular conditioning and flexibility training will not only reduce the risk of injury, it will improve performance as well.

Victor Khabie, M.D., F.A.A.O.S., F.A.C.S. – A specialist in sports medicine, Dr. Khabie serves as team physician for Pace University athletics, Newburgh Free Academy athletics, as well as for many high school, collegiate and professional athletes and is a ringside physician for the New York State Athletic Commission, caring for professional boxers. Dr. Khabie is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine and co-chief of orthopaedic surgery at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, New York. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, followed by an internship in general surgery at the New York University School of Medicine, where he currently is an assistant clinical professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery. After carrying out his residency in orthopaedic surgery at the Hospital for Joint Diseases Orthopaedic Institute in New York City, he completed a fellowship in sports medicine surgery at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. Dr. Khabie is a diplomat of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. http://www.somersortho.com.

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MELISSA CHEFEC
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