Preventing and Treating Eye Injuries in MMA

Jan 12, 2023MMA0 comments

At Apex MMA, our goal is to help minimize injuries and keep all our members and coaches safe. This involves ongoing education on injury prevention, recognition, and proper treatment. One vulnerable area is the eyes. Direct trauma can lead to short-term or permanent vision damage. This article will provide tips on preventing and treating eye injuries so our team can see the wins ahead.

The eyes are vulnerable to injury during MMA competition and training. Direct trauma to the eyeball or facial bones around the eye can lead to serious damage. Left untreated, eye injuries may cause permanent vision impairment. However, there are steps fighters and coaches can take to help prevent eye trauma.

Mechanisms of Eye Injury

Common ways eyes get hurt in MMA include:

  • Eye pokes from fingers, toes, or gloves
  • Elbow strikes landing around the eye socket
  • Knees or kicks where padding shifts
  • Heads clashing together accidentally
  • Falling where the face hits the mat
  • Force transmitted through the jaw or cheekbone

The eyes remain exposed despite gear like headgear. Padding slips and the face needs some freedom of movement for grappling. Unfortunately, this leaves the eyes prone to contact from various strikes, punches, and scrapes.

Cornea Abrasions

The clear outer layer covering the iris and pupil is called the cornea. It can be scratched by a fingernail, glove, or foot sliding across it. Signs of corneal abrasion include:

  • Severe sharp eye pain and feeling like something is stuck in the eye
  • Excessive tearing and light sensitivity
  • Eye spasms trying to slam closed to protect itself

Even a minor corneal scratch makes it nearly impossible to continue fighting. The pain and reflexive blinking immediately impairs defense and offense. Stopping the bout promptly allows application of anesthetic drops and proper treatment with antibiotic ointments to prevent infection.

Blunt Eye Trauma

More concerning is direct blows to the eyeball itself or the facial bones immediately surrounding the eye. Blunt force can misshape the eyeball, cause vision changes, or result in fractures:

Eyeball trauma risks:

  • Hyphema – bleeding inside the eye itself
  • Globe rupture – eyeball splits open
  • Retinal damage – retina detaches
  • Optic nerve injury – nerve swells

Orbital fractures around the eye risks:

  • Double vision or visual disturbances
  • Numbness of the upper cheek and lip
  • Pronounced bruising and swelling around the eye
  • Bulging or sinking of the eye downward

This degree of trauma can easily lead to permanent vision loss if retinal detachment, nerve damage, or high eye pressure occurs. Prompt medical attention is vital.

Orbital Bone Fractures

The thin orbital bones surrounding and protecting the eye socket are vulnerable to elbows, knees, or blunt force. Common fracture patterns include:

  • Blowout – eye pushed back into socket
  • Zygomaticomaxillary – cheekbone broken
  • Naso-orbito-ethmoidal – under eye and nose

CT scans help assess fractures and bone fragment displacement. Surgery may be required to prevent fragments from pushing on and damaging the eyeball.

Long-Term Consequences

While eyes often heal well, complications can still develop:

  • Cataracts from blunt trauma
  • Glaucoma from elevated eye pressure
  • Retinal holes, tears or detachment
  • Chronic dry eyes and light sensitivity
  • Optic nerve damage
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Chronic migraines from eye strain

Any changes in vision after head trauma require urgent medical assessment to prevent permanent blindness. Lost vision cannot be recovered.

Preventing Eye Injuries

While you can’t eliminate risk, steps to help prevent eye trauma include:

  • Clipping nails and filing calluses before fights
  • Wearing padded headgear during sparring sessions
  • Using approved shin pads that don’t shift for kicks/knees
  • Learning proper technique to block head kicks
  • Keeping hands closed in a fist instead of open when striking
  • Building up neck strength to reduce whip of the head from punches
  • Protecting from facial and head cuts that could later limit vision

Coaches should encourage fighters to avoid unnecessary head trauma and implement safety protocols during training at the gym.

Eye Pokes During Competition

Accidental eye pokes are common in MMA due to the fingerless gloves used for grappling. Even a glancing poke can scratch the cornea or directly hit the eyeball.

If a fighter is poked, they should immediately step back, verbally notify the referee, and signal they cannot continue. Trying to fight through eye pain risks converting a minor scratch into permanent vision damage.

After an eye poke the fighter needs a minimum 5 minutes for the doctor to numb the eye and carefully check for corneal abrasions. If the fighter cannot continue, the fight is ruled a no contest rather than a loss.

Recovery Timelines After Injury

Healing eye injuries fully protects long-term vision:

  • Orbital fractures require a minimum 6 weeks off any contact, up to 3 months for severe breaks.
  • Corneal abrasions or eye pokes require complete normal vision before contact sports resume.
  • Eyelid lacerations need 6-12 weeks to mend the delicate skin and nerve structures.
  • Any double vision, tearing, pain, or numbness during recovery necessitates prompt reevaluation.

Don’t let ego risk your eyesight. Protect your vision so you can enjoy life during and after your fighting career.

Here at Apex MMA, we want to help our team protect their vision for the long haul. Learning prevention, recognition, and proper response to eye injuries gives our fighters the best chance of succeeding in the cage and enjoying life outside it.

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Team Apex MMA Martial Arts Coach
Apex MMA is a specialist mixed martial arts gym focusing on Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Led by an experienced team of instructors, Apex MMA offers comprehensive training programs for students of all ages and skill levels. With Apex MMA's systematic teaching methods, passion for martial arts, and strong community relationships, you will gain the tools to succeed in the gym and beyond.
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