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Treating Martial Arts Injuries
Part 2: Follow these strategies to get better and back on the mat faster.
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Causes of Injuries
• Part 2: Recuperation - R.I.C.E.
• Part 3: Prevention
Karate Safer than Soccer...

The National Center for Health Statistics identifies the sports that contribute to the most emergency room visits by persons 5 to 24 years of age. Here's the tally for several popular sports, all sending many more patients to the ER than combat sports:

Percent of sports-related injury visits:

  • Basketball: 17.1
  • Pedal cycling: 16.1
  • Football: 10.3
  • Baseball: 9.4
  • Gymnastics/Cheerleading: 5.6
  • Soccer: 3.6
  • Combative: 2.3

That was the end of my workout for the evening. I knew it wasn't a major injury--it wasn't painful and I still retained most of my strength and range of motion. The best thing for this elbow was RICE--not some asian homebrewed poultice, but a series of steps to minimize problems and start the healing process.

RICE is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. These steps should be followed for all strains and sprains, some of the most common martial arts injuries.

  • Rest: Stop using the injured body part. In my case, with slight tears in the ligaments on the inside of my elbow, I knew that further use of the elbow could cause those tears to expand. Letting the limb rest would prevent additional damage.
  • Ice: Immediately after getting home, I applied an ice pack. I use the cycle recommended by About's Sports Medicine Guide: icing for 20 minutes, then removing the pack for 20 minutes, then icing again. I continued for about 3 hours. Had I been more prepared, I would've started icing immediately after the injury while still at our workout. I use gel coldpacks that I keep in my freezer, but plastic bags filled with crushed ice or ice cubes work fine. Bags of frozen peas or corn are great too, and have the benefit of conforming well to the injured area (just remember to not eat the contents after the bag has been thawed and frozen a few times!). Put a thin barrier between your skin and the cold: for example, a washcloth, dishrag, or my soccer coach's favorite, a tube sock (insert the icepack in the sock). Direct contact with the icepack can cause frostbite or other skin problems.
  • Compression: I put on a neoprene elbow brace after several cycles of icing. Elastic bandages also work well. Both provide support so the limb or joint doesn't have to support as much weight or force--helping the injured area rest. Also, compression reduces swelling, helping to promote healing. Don't wrap that bandage too tight, though--if you feel pain, or numbness, or your fingers/toes turn blue, the bandage is cutting off circulation.
  • Elevation: Elevating the injured part also reduces swelling. In most cases, you need to elevate the injured part above the level of your heart--I propped my injured arm, icepack on my elbow, on the sofa while sitting on the floor.


For internal medication (pills), I take anti-inflammatory pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin/Nuprin) or naproxen (Aleve). These ease pain while reducing swelling. Follow the instructions on the label or provided by your doctor or pharmacist.

I apply dit da jow lotion on the skin. Dit da jow roughly translates to "iron hit wine" or "hit and fall liniment". I've used this stuff since I was a kid, falling off the monkey bars and having my grandma apply the funky-smelling ointment she got from Chinatown. There's different types of dit da jow, some are better at healing bruises, some better at healing strains and sprains (e.g. "Zeng Gu Shui"). It's weird; the stuff is just herbs and alcohol in a bottle, but it works. If you don't have a grandma that can buy the stuff at a local Chinatown, there are Internet sources for dit da jow, and even recipes for making your own.

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