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martial arts and whiplash

Martial arts and whiplash

Practitioners of mixed martial arts have a risk of whiplash injury similar to that of people involved in rear impact vehicle accidents, yet there are no safety regulations to address these concerns (‘Risk of cervical injuries in mixed martial arts’, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2005; 39:444-447).

Those are the conclusions reached by a team of UK researchers who set out to assess the potential risk of cervical spine and associated soft tissue injuries in mixed martial arts by means of detailed kinematic and biomechanical analysis of the following common manoeuvres.

  • O goshi (judo), in which the fighter uses his shoulders to swing the opponent over his hips.
  • The suplex (jujitsu), in which the fighter grabs the opponent around the waist and lifts him up over his shoulder to fall forwards onto his face.
  • The souplesse, a variant of the suplex, in which the opponent is rotated and slammed down onto his back.
  • The guillotine drop (a choke hold).

Two experienced practising martial artists took part in a video analysis of these four manoeuvres, performing each a total of 10 times. The motion during the techniques was recorded by two digital video camcorders, one filming the general motion of the fighter and the opponent and the other focusing on the cervical (neck) region as the opponent hit the floor.

The researchers concluded that these four common manoeuvres have kinematics (motion forces) that can result in serious cervical injury. Indeed, the correct performance of the suplex in their experiment did result in cervical injury, albeit mild.

‘Strong parallels can be drawn,’ they warn, ‘between the kinematics of rear end motor vehicle impacts and the described motion of the 0 goshi and souplesse… Comparison of our biomechanical models with road trauma research has revealed comparable forces to produce cervical injury.’

They point out, further, that the classical movements in their experiments were carried out by experienced practitioners and that the deviations likely to be produced by less experienced participants may produce even larger forces, giving rise to a greater risk of injury.

martial arts and whiplash