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Want to avoid fencing injuries? Don’t be lax about the safety rules. Here are some true stories of what can happen.

The Fencing Coach

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In a recent study on Olympic sport injury rates, Fencing ranked among the safest sports listed. Given the fact that Fencing is a combat sport rooted in duels to the death, it should come as a surprise that such a ferocious sport would be safer than say, Badminton or Table Tennis.

Yet, our equipment is (mostly) refined enough to prevent any serious bodily injury outside of pulled/torn muscles or cramps. Rarely does one see an injury related to impact with the intact blade, and if you’re wearing quality gear, most forceful hits feel negligible in terms of pain.

The more comfortable we get with safety, the more more our attention to safety can slip away. As I’ll detail later on in this post, I’ve been guilty of this myself. Sometimes you’ll see folks bouting only wearing shorts without knickers. Sometimes the underarm protector will be forgotten. I’ve seen an instance where a…

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What Is With My Ankles?

Well, I’ve been a bit lax on my blog here, but it turns out that I’ll have a lot of down time in the next month or two. I’m going to try to get back to regular posts on fencing, writing, and whatever else piques my interest.

It looks like my previous post on fencing injuries has been my most popular, and it just so happens that that is the reason for my newly found free time. I’ve managed to break the other ankle. Well, it’s not really broken, but as far as fencing goes, it is. In competition last weekend I made a counterattack and scored the opening touch in a second round bout. However, when I landed on my front foot, it rolled over and forward and made an unhappy crunch. I remember hopping on one leg for about a second before I half-fell, half-rolled down onto my back.

Right ankle, <24 hours after the injury.

Right ankle, < 24 hours after the injury.

In fencing competition, you’re entitled to a single 10-minute medical break. If it is determined that you were not truly injured, then you’re penalized. There’s not often a trainer present at a local-level tournament to bring this into question. I took full advantage of my medical break and slapped ice onto my ankle as soon as possible. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to stand on it, but when my break was over, I did manage to finish out the bout, losing 15-9. Since this was the second round of the tournament, a loss meant that I was eliminated.

By the time I made my way home, it was starting to swell. Having had previous ankle injuries and a relatively high pain tolerance, I babied myself at home rather than run to the emergency room. As with injuries in other sports – P.R.I.C.E. is the acronym to remember. This means: P – protection, R – rest, I – ice, C – compression, and E – elevation, and is the standard initial treatment for sprains and other injuries. A good summary of the considerations and protocol can be found here.

Once I was able to contact my doctor, I ran through a series of tests – x-rays and an MRI. Most ankle sprains are inversion sprains – meaning that the ankle rolls in such a way that the three ligaments on the outside of the ankle are damaged or torn. In my case, one is torn and the other two are damaged. For your average person, this can still heal with rest, an ankle brace, and physical therapy. The ligaments don’t regrow though. You’re hoping that maybe the ends of the torn ligament will find each other enough to scar and that the remaining ligaments toughen up enough to compensate. The ankle is a pretty stable joint, so this can work out. But there is often more risk of future sprains due to the looser ankle joint.

Ankle Inversion. Photo by BarneyStinson13, shared under Creative Commons license.

Ankle Inversion. Photo by BarneyStinson13, shared under Creative Commons license.

For athletes, there can be a surgical option, and this is what I’ve elected to do. My doctor is going to sew the ends of the ligament together so that there’s a better chance of regaining full function without the risk of ongoing problems and surgery at a later date anyway. There’s more to it than that, but it should get me back on my (fencing) feet sooner. For now, I’m practicing on my crutches to build arm endurance over the next few days before the procedure.

Has anyone else had sprains like this from fencing or other sports? Have you been through physical therapy for an injury to the ankle or other high impact joint? Have you used the P.R.I.C.E. protocol for an acute injury?

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