BRIEF REVIEW: Injury rates in olympic combat sports


A knowledge of injury epidemiology in specific sporting populations is important in understanding injury risk and instigating preventative measures. 


Injury rates from the last 3 summer olympic games (Beijing, 2008, London, 2012, and Rio De Janeiro, 2016) were compiled for boxing, wrestling, judo and taekwondo. The data was collected using the IOC injury & illness surveillance system. For the purposes of this study, injury was defined “as a new or recurring musculoskeletal complaint, concussion or other medical condition incurred in competition during the Olympic Games receiving medical attention, regardless of the consequences with respect to absence from competition or training”.


On average, one injury occurred for every 2.1 hours of competition. The following number of injuries per 1000 minutes of competition were reported:

  • Judo 9.6
  • Boxing 9.2
  • Taekwondo 7.7
  • Wrestling 4.8

Head and neck injuries were most common in boxing, upper limb injuries most common in judo, and lower limb injuries most common in wrestling and taekwondo. 


50.2% of the injuries resulted in 0 days absence from competition, 19.7% in 1-7 days, 17.2% in 8-28 days, and 12.9% in > 28 days. 


Of particular interest was that there was a 3-fold increase in head, neck and face injury rates in boxing following the removal of headgear for male athletes after the 2012 games. 


This study provides a valuable contribution to the injury epidemiology knowledge base in combat sports. 


  1. Lystad RP, Alevras A, Rudy I, Soligard T, Engebretsen L. Injury incidence, severity and profile in Olympic combat sports: a comparative analysis of 7712 athlete exposures from three consecutive Olympic Games. Br J Sports Med. 2020;

About the author

Sam Gilbert

Sam Gilbert is a registered physiotherapist with the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy from Latrobe university (Melbourne, Australia) and a master’s degree in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) from Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia).

A 3rd Dan black belt in Shinkyokushinkai Karate under the World Karate Organisation (WKO), Sam participated for over 20 years in full contact competition, winning multiple state and national titles, and culminating in a 4th place in the heavyweight division of the Shinkyokushinkai World Cup in 2009.

As the co-founder and clinical director of Club 360, the premier multi-disciplinary health and fitness center in Tokyo, Japan, Sam has combined his practical experience with an in-depth study of sports performance in relation to combat sports, and strives to help other combat athletes reach their full competitive potential, whilst at the same time decreasing injury risk and increasing competition and training potential.

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By Sam Gilbert