Fencing Around Injuries – Part I

I just returned from fencing at the March NAC (North American Cup) last week and I wanted to take some time to write about fencing injuries since that has been a popular topic in the past. As someone fencing the Veteran age groups (40+), it is also apparent that almost all of my fellow competitors have injuries. We are all taped up, icing, and limping, just to different degrees.

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So this isn’t intended as medical advice about specific injuries, but is more of a general guide to what I have found works for me to keep myself healthy enough to keep fencing so that I will still be around when I age into the Vet-80 category.

First off, I want to just list the variety of injuries that I’ve dealt with so anyone out there can compare notes if you’d like. Roughly in order of occurrence:

  • Ligament injury (back foot) caused by Morton’s toe
  • Nerve damage +/- neuroma (right hand)
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (back leg)
  • Severe ankle sprain (back foot)
  • Sprained knee (back leg)
  • Possible meniscal tear (back leg)
  • Subluxating tendons and osteochondral lesion of the talus (back foot/ankle), a consequence of the severe ankle sprain, required 3 surgeries to repair (Brostrom procedure, fibular osteotomy, bone graft, PRP injection for tendonitis, 9 weeks on crutches
  • Neck injury – fell on my head while snowboarding, required months of PT
  • Tendonitis right elbow – required rest and PT
  • Back injury – possibly herniated disc, ongoing problem
  • Severe ankle sprain (front foot) – 1 surgery to repair (Brostrom procedure) and another 3 weeks on crutches
  • Minor sprain (front foot) – during recovery from surgery
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Tendinitis (front foot) – resolved with rest, shockwave therapy
  • Tendonitis right elbow – currently recovering with PT and a PRP injection
  • Left shoulder pain – presumed impingement syndrome, currently recovering with PT

On any given day, I may also have muscle soreness, bruises, or a toenail that is about to fall off. At this point, the right elbow tendinitis and the back pain are only ongoing issues I have, but as I increase my training, I’m always on alert for new problems to start. (And note, through all of this, I haven’t actually been stabbed by a blade.)

So through all of these setbacks, how have I managed to pull through and return to fencing? Some of it has to be luck. I mean with the back ankle, I’m extremely fortunate that my body healed well and I was able to regain full mobility in the joint. At one point before surgery, the topic of an ankle replacement had come up, so yeah, it was bad. What else have I learned about injury prevention and continuing to train and practice between injuries?

One thing that I had to learn as I went through my 20’s was that I had to listen to my body. Mental toughness can carry you through pain, but as your joints, tendons, and ligaments age, they don’t heal as quickly. I had to learn to identify different types of pain. Muscle soreness is one thing and is part of being an athlete. The sharp pain of an aggravated tendon is a warning sign and something that should not be ignored. There are many days at practice now where I would love to keep bouting, but I know that I need to step away so that I will be well enough to return the next day.

Another important way to avoid injuries is to maintain consistency in your practice. It is easier on my body to practice at a moderate level three days a week than to go as hard as I can one day a week. I also have to take it easy on my first day back to practice after some time away. I also see this problem when former fencers try to return to practice after a break from the sport. Take it slowly and don’t overdo it! You will be sore enough just from using muscles in a way they haven’t been in years. When getting back into a practice routine, gradually increase the amount of time you practice instead of jumping into hard training.

One other thing that is helpful if you have the time is to do it is cross-training in a more symmetrical sport. This is also valuable for general fitness and to improve your cardiovascular endurance. I took up triathlon a few years back (swimming, cycling, running) and this helped me a lot with fencing. Strength training is also valuable to help to avoid injury. It can lead to increased bone and muscle strength, decrease the risk of lower back injuries, and can help with balance in people as we age.

Coming up in my next post – more specific tips on fencing around injuries!

Part II is here.

Find more of my writing about fencing here.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Fencing Around Injuries – Part II | Clare L. Deming

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