Most Common Boxing-Related Injuries and How to Avoid Them

In the sports world, there's an adage that says "the most important ability is availability." In other words, if you’re not healthy and able enough to box, it doesn’t matter how good of a boxer you are or how much you’re looking forward to your next training session at Gloveworx. No matter how much willpower you might have, at some point, you can only do what your body allows you to do.

Boxing is a sport that can certainly lead to injury, regardless of whether you're facing someone in the ring or just training on a heavy bag. So, it's important to understand the most common injuries sustained by professional or recreational boxers, as well as how you can overcome them when sustained and more importantly, how to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Common Boxing Injuries

It goes without saying that boxing is a sport that lends itself to its fair share of injuries, whether you’re engaged in a match against an opponent, or even just practicing the sport individually. When you’re hitting a punching bag or another human being, you’re subjecting your fingers, hands and wrists to repeated violent impacts.

Common Injuries For Professional Boxers

In 2015, 44 competitive boxers were asked to report any injuries they sustained monthly, over the course of one year. From that study, 192 injuries were reported and 133 of those resulted in the boxers having to pause their training or competitive activities.

As much of the emphasis of boxing is striking an opponent in the head (with the goal of knocking them out), injuries to the head region are very typical in boxing. With the increased focus on long-term brain conditions like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which can be caused by repeated and prolonged instances of trauma to the head, there has been an increased spotlight and concern around head-related injuries.

Competitive boxers also “work the body” of their opponent, meaning they try to strike the opponent’s body with the goal of tiring them out and diminishing their ability to keep going in a bout. Those opponents on the receiving end of a “body shot” can suffer internal bruising or even broken ribs.

Common Injuries When Using Boxing As Exercise

Naturally, many of the injuries that can arise when using boxing as a way to exercise arise from the increased stress you place on the joints that undergo the most movement and impact when boxing.

Injuries to the wrist and elbow have the highest percentage of new injuries reported among adults who engaged in a cardio kickboxing class. While we’re specifically discussing the merits of boxing, it would follow that the same injuries would apply here, since those particular joints are used in the same manner -- if not more so -- in boxing as they are in cardio kickboxing.

These types of injuries can be exacerbated when you’re hitting a heavy bag, because of the impact caused when you strike the bag. In particular, “recreational” boxers could end up with a sprained wrist as a result of using poor technique when hitting the bag, or even as a result of the repetitive strain put on the wrist from hitting the bag (especially when using less-than-ideal techniques).

What Should You Do When Injured

Regardless of what body part is injured and the extent to which it’s injured, the first thing you need to do is ensure you don’t repeat it to any further stress; otherwise, you run the risk of making that injury worse.

Once you suffer an injury of any nature, give yourself at least 24 hours to better assess the extent. When you suffer an injury, the initial pain may subside after a short while, but your body’s reaction to the injury -- often in the form of swelling -- will come after that.

Based on the extent of your injury and how it looks between several hours to a few days after sustaining it, you should determine whether it’s an injury that can be treated with rest and over-the-counter medication, or whether it requires medical attention. Note: when in doubt, you should consult your doctor; it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Allow Your Body To Heal

We often take it for granted, but your body is a miraculous system that is designed to heal itself. So, the last thing you want to do is get in the way of this amazing process.

Injured muscles and tissue need time to heal. Otherwise, you’ll be subjecting them to the risk of even greater damage. An injured body part will struggle to heal if it repeatedly used after it’s been injured. That is clearly the opposite of what you want to do.

Consult A Medical Professional, If Needed

If you sustain an injury in which the pain, inflammation, or swelling remains after approximately two weeks, then we strongly recommend you consult a medical professional. Injuries that linger for that period of time might be indicators of something more serious, which a medical professional should be able to diagnose with a clinical examination or imaging devices.

However, for any injuries that involve your head, please do not wait for the aforementioned two-week period; consult a medical professional immediately. The same goes for any instance you believe you may have potentially fractured any bone(s) in your body.

We tend to overlook the simple idea that the best way to deal with boxing-related injuries is to avoid ever enduring them in the first place.

As anyone who’s been to a Gloveworx session will tell you: the first thing you need to do is warm up your muscles before you start boxing. An effective combination of strength and conditioning warm-up exercises designed to increase your heart rate will help you mobilize your key muscle groups, allowing you to optimally perform your boxing-related training. Stretching is also an integral part of your injury-prevention repertoire, both before and after your workouts.

As mentioned earlier: you need to listen to your body. If you’re starting to endure pains and strains that are beyond what you’d normally encounter after a hard workout, or if you find yourself feeling abnormal fatigue or pains in areas like your knees and shoulders, that could be a sign that something was damaged a bit more than usual.

Your Body Needs Rest

When you perform any type of resistance-based or high-intensity exercise (boxing training incorporates many elements of both), your body breaks down your muscle tissues. The recovery process from that break down is what makes your muscles stronger and allows you to repeat those same exercises with more intensity and for longer periods of time.

When you perform excessive amounts of exercise without proper rest, recovery and regeneration, you may experience harmful side effects that can include decreased performance, fatigue, altered hormonal states, poor sleeping patterns, reproductive disorders, decreased immunity, loss of appetite and even mood swings. Many of those sound like they’d defeat the purpose of exercise in the first place!

Your Body Needs To Regenerate

So, those days off from the gym are almost as important as those days you workout. Your “rest days” are when your muscles, nerves, bones and connective tissue are given time to rebuild.

There are also two major factors for helping your body recover from your last workout and be prepared for your next one: nutrition and sleep.

Eating the right mix of nutrients and macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) can help your body decrease the breakdown of muscles immediately after your workout, help your body build more muscle after your workout and enhance your body’s recovery process overall. Proteins are the building blocks of your muscles, carbohydrates are the vehicle that delivers all the key nutrients into your muscles and the “good fats” can help your body absorb the nutrients you consume and produce the hormones needed to keep your body running optimally.

Sleep, by definition, is the most inherent way we can allow our body to rest. An adequate amount of sleep allows athletes -- of all skill levels -- to perform exercises better. Also, our bodies secrete more growth hormones during periods of deep sleep, which is a powerful catalyst for keeping -- and building -- lean muscle mass, as well as incinerating our body fat.

Form Is As Important As Frequency

In many sports or forms of training, including boxing, people tend to overlook the fact that if you work out once using good form, you’ll actually get a better workout than exercising multiple times using poor form.

More importantly, form is just as important when it comes to protecting yourself from injuries. It starts from the minute you wrap your hands; doing so correctly will pad your knuckles and minimize the impact they take when you hit the bag. When you strike the bag, using the strength and momentum from your whole body -- as opposed to just your upper body -- will ensure you deliver a punch with maximum force, without stressing out the wrong muscles.

Finally, there’s a reason that every Gloveworx coach will always remind you to keep your hands up by your face; keeping your hands up protects your head from a potential punch from an opponent. While you’ll never have to worry about this when you’re working on a heavy bag, if you ever decide to step in the ring and spar for a few rounds, you’ll quickly realize its importance.

Take Care of Yourself Today to Train Tomorrow

There’s an adage that applies when it comes to exercise and training, including boxing: quality is as important as quantity.

Sure, we’d love to see you at Gloveworx sessions as often as possible, but ensuring that you take care of your body before and after each session is just as important as the work you put in during workout itself.

At the end of the day, exercise is all about making us feel better, both physically and mentally. If those aren’t happening, then we’re defeating the purpose of exercise in the first place.