Preventing and Treating Lacerations in MMA

Jan 10, 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 common source of injuries in MMA are lacerations and cuts. While superficial, these can still end fights and cause complications. This article will provide tips on preventing and treating lacerations so our team stays in the cage.

Lacerations and cuts are common occurrences in MMA that can quickly end a fight. A bad cut resulting in significant bleeding into the eyes or over high-risk areas of the face often forces the referee or ringside doctor to stop the bout. While most cuts only cause superficial damage, they can have long-term consequences if repeatedly reopened. Learning proper prevention and treatment of lacerations helps prolong a fighter’s career.

Causes and Locations of Cuts

Lacerations generally occur from:

  • Direct punching impact, especially with MMA gloves
  • Elbow strikes
  • Knees and kicks if foot padding moves
  • Clashing heads or other accidental contacts

The thin skin overlying bone is most prone to splitting open from strikes. Common cut locations include:

  • Around the eyes, especially at the brows
  • Bridge of the nose
  • Cheekbones
  • Between or along the lips

These areas have little cushioning fat or muscle protecting the bone beneath. Unfortunately, they are also prime target zones for strikes.

Bleeding and Swelling

Once the skin splits open, bleeding from the cut occurs. Blood may drip steadily from a vein or spray in pulses from an artery. Bleeding fills the space under the skin, leading to significant swelling and bruising known as a hematoma.

The swelling around eye cuts distorts vision, while blood dripping into the eyes causes stinging and affects sight. This impairment means cuts around the eyes often lead to a fight being waived off.

High-Risk Injury Zones

While cuts alone rarely cause permanent damage, certain facial locations have risks of more serious injury:

  • Eyelids: Can directly damage the eye underneath.
  • Nose bridge: Contains delicate nasolacrimal duct, draining eye tears.
  • Brow area: Houses nerves that control facial expressions and blinking.
  • Lips/chin: Risk cutting branches of the facial nerve that move facial muscles.

Ringside doctors stop fights not just based on blood loss, but whether the location risks functional impairment.

Preventing Lacerations

Steps fighters can take to minimize cuts:

  • Wear headgear during sparring, even for grappling.
  • Apply Vaseline to high-risk bony areas like the brow and nose.
  • Use proper padding on elbows, knees, and shins for standup striking.
  • Clip nails and file down calluses before fight night.
  • Learn defensive head movement and blocking technique.
  • Build up gradual exposure to head shots rather than going full force.
  • Consider plastic surgery to shave down scar tissue after retiring.

Coaches should also encourage fighters to avoid “gym wars” and unnecessary head trauma during training.

Treating Cuts in the Cage

Once a fighter gets cut, the cutman gets to work trying to minimize and seal the bleeding. The most effective treatment is simple pressure applied to the area using gauze and the enswell tool.

Pressing down with gauze allows a clot to form so bleeding slows, while the enswell is a cold metal plate that helps squeeze the tissues together. Cutmen may also use coagulant sprays containing epinephrine to constrict local blood vessels.

Between rounds, vaseline and petroleum jelly are applied around stitches and steri-strips to prevent reopening. Stopping the bleeding and preventing reinjury is the cutman’s main job.

Closure and Recovery Timelines

For significant cuts, proper closure by a doctor helps optimize healing and reduce scarring. This may involve various layers of sutures, adhesive strips, or skin glues.

Recovery time depends on the depth and length of a laceration. As a general guideline:

  • 2 weeks = 20% healed
  • 5 weeks = 50% healed
  • 10 weeks = 80% healed

Full-contact training generally resumes around the 3 month mark for most cuts, longer for very severe lacerations.

Infection Prevention

Keeping cuts clean is vital for proper healing and preventing infection. Use antibacterial ointments while healing and keep the wound covered with a bandage to avoid contamination.

See a doctor quickly for any signs of redness, pus, fever, or oozing that could signal infection like cellulitis. Skin infections can rapidly escalate in an immunocompromised athlete.

Long-Term Scar Tissue Effects

While cuts typically heal well, a fighter can develop excessive scar tissue in areas of repeated trauma. The collagen-rich scar tissue does not handle impact as well as normal skin. This leads to an increased tendency for old cuts to split open again.

Plastic surgery techniques can help reduce built-up scar tissue after an MMA career ends. But during competition, areas that have been split open before often bleed quicker. So cut prevention should be a priority.

Fight Strategy Adjustments

Fighters accumulate scar tissue and cuts over their careers. Coaches need to adapt game plans based on a fighter’s laceration history and vulnerability.

For fighters who tend to bleed and swell around the eyes, bout strategies rely more on body work and chokes rather than head strikes. Conditioning focuses on anticipating vision impairment from bleeding.

While lacerations are largely inevitable in MMA, proper prevention and treatment allows fighters to be strategic about managing their risks long-term. Here at Apex MMA, our goal is to educate our team on these best practices to maximize their health and careers.

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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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