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Pre-competition habits and injuries in Taekwondo athletes Part 4

Pre-competition habits and injuries in Taekwondo athletes

Part 4

By: Mohsen Kazemi author, Heather Shearer and Young Su Choung


Over the past decade, there has been heightened interest in injury rates sustained by martial arts athletes, and more specifically, Taekwondo athletes. Despite this interest, there is a paucity of research on pre-competition habits and training of these athletes. The purpose of this pilot study was to assess training characteristics, competition preparation habits, and injury profiles of Taekwondo athletes.


Weight cycling

Pre-competition habits are an important factor to examine in all sports. Due to weight classifications in Taekwondo, the athletes are very conscious of their weight. Certain trends were reported by participants in order to achieve the desired weight. Over 53% (n = 15) of participants reported fasting prior to the competition. Of these individuals, 33.3% (n = 4) neither ate nor drank, 50% (n = 6) only drank, and 17% (n = 2) ate but did not drink. Aerobic exercise was another method used by competitors in order to reach the desired weight category. In addition to dieting, 83%, or 10 of the 15 fasting participants reported doing aerobic activity prior to competition.


Social support

Support is often key to athletes at higher levels of competition. The current author examined athlete support for the sport by significant others. Seventy-eight percent (n = 22) of athletes reported they had parental support, while 14% (n = 4) reported no parental support was given, and 7% (n = 2) of respondents responded that this support did not apply. Spousal or partner support was reported by 32% (n = 9) of the athletes, while 18% (n = 5) did not receive this support, and 50% (n = 14) of respondents noted that the category did not apply to them. Because the survey was completed prior to competing, participants were asked to record if they felt prepared for the upcoming event. Fifty percent (n = 14) of respondents responded that they were prepared, 39% (n = 11) felt prepared but nervous, and 11% (n = 3) did not feel adequately prepared for the competition.


Several comparison analyses were performed using Pearson's chi-square test. None of the values were of statistical significance, and thus not reported. The rationale for only reporting frequencies is due to the small sample size of the study, making the use of other analyses like Pearson's or Fisher's Exact Test erroneous.



The objective of this retrospective investigation was to assess training characteristics, competition preparation habits, and injury profiles of taekwondo athletes. By having the athletes complete a survey, several areas of concern regarding competition preparation and injuries were highlighted.


Training and injuries

When examining the training habits of taekwondo athletes, the current study reviewed several components of performance. Respondents had significant experience in the sport, with over 75% having six or more years of involvement. Training time, measured by number of practices per week and number of hours per practice, was also high. Over 53% of practices were two hours, with over 45% of athletes practicing between two to four times per week. Of importance is the relationship of how training time and competition is affected by injury. Unfortunately, our sample size was too small to have meaningful comparisons.


Other authors have reviewed this relationship. In a study by Feehan and Waller [2], competitive performance affected by previous injury was examined. On the day of the competition, 35% of respondents had a current injury affecting performance. Some of these required strapping or support in order to perform. Seventeen percent reported continuing to train/compete against medical advice. Even with these injury rates, the authors noted that fight outcome was not significantly associated with current or previous injuries. One conclusion which might be drawn is that the injuries reported were not severe enough to negatively impact the athletes' performance. It can also be assumed that many of those with severe injuries would have chosen to withdraw from or not enter the competition until an appropriate level of health was reached.


Practice activities among the respondents varied. A large proportion of respondents warmed up prior to kicking drills, while less than 25% cooled down. One possible explanation for warm-up participation may be that it is encompassed within the class. On the other hand, cooldowns may be left to the discretion of the athlete once training is finished. In the current study, stretching was considered a separate activity from warm-ups and cool-downs. Over 60% of respondents stretched both before and after training, while just over 40% stretched prior to training only. In future studies, it would be interesting to note if stretching occurred after warm-up, which is a newer trend of thinking in the prevention of muscle injury [13]. Within the questionnaire, it was specified that cool down exercises did not include stretching. By doing this, the authors intended to eliminate the overlap between the stretching and cool down items. Future studies should allow subject to specify the various types of cool-down activities used, such as light jogging or light-paced jumping jacks. Future studies should also examine the relationship between injury rates and the use of stretching, warm-ups, and cooldowns. Due to a limited sample size, the current study was not able to make these comparisons. The final training activity examined in the current study was sparring. This was an integral part of taekwondo training, with over 50% of respondents sparring three to four times per week. The current study attempted to examine the relationship between frequencies of sparring when injured, but there were no statistically significant differences. Birrer [14] reported that most injuries occur during sparring, thus it is an area of training which deserves specific focus. Future studies should focus on both injury type and frequency occurring during sparring, as well as limitations in sparring due to injury.


In the current study, training was most frequently reported as the time of injury and relatively few injuries occurred during competition. Even so, the overall reported injury rate was quite high, at 520/1000 A-E. The injury rates calculated for both training and competition are likely to be skewed. Firstly, respondents were asked to simply report if they had been injured during competition or training. A more accurate representation may have occurred if athletes were asked to report how many competitions they had participated in during the previous year and if they had suffered injuries during any of these. Training injury rates may have also been affected by athletes returning to play prior to complete resolution of their problem. This could make athletes more susceptible to subsequent injuries.


When reviewing injury location reported in the current study, it was not surprising, that the lower extremity received the most injuries. This was also true for all subsequent injuries reported (up to five per athlete). These results are consistent with those of several other studies [2, 5]. The upper limb was the second most frequently injured region, with the head being the least frequently injured. Sprains and strains were the most common injuries, followed by contusions, which is similar to other research [2]. Other reports have listed contusions and concussions as the most common forms of taekwondo-related injuries [3, 6]. Zemper et al. [5] reported that contusions were the predominant type of injury in his study of injury rates recorded during the 1988 US Olympic team trials for taekwondo.


In general, the number of practices missed decreased with subsequent injuries. Also, there were relatively few athletes who missed a large number of practices. This is perhaps attributable to injury severity. One explanation for fewer missed practices could be that once an athlete experienced one injury, s/he was more likely to increase the use of protective gear, thus avoiding or decreasing future injury severity. Future studies should examine if there is a relationship between increased uses of protective gear following an injury.


Recently, there has been increased concern regarding head injuries in taekwondo. Koh and Watkinson [4] reported that when compared to other contact sports, competition Taekwondo had the highest incidence rate of concussions. This might be explained by the fact that athletes are awarded points for head contact. Disturbingly, it was also found that over 30% of concussed athletes suffered more than one significant head blow in the same match. Also, among 99% of the head blows, no evasive maneuvers were attempted. This would suggest that athletes are poorly trained in blocking skills. Pieter and Zemper [3] also reported that contusions and cerebral concussions were the leading injury types among young male and female Taekwondo athletes. Again, unblocked attacks were a frequent occurrence in these injuries. Widespread safety education on head injuries and more specifically concussions is needed among Taekwondo athletes, trainers, and referees. Improved blocking skills and headgear are a priority in order to help avoid serious injury.


Following injury, a variety of care was sought by the current study's athletes. Interestingly, one-quarter of the athletes chose not to seek any form of treatment. This could perhaps be accounted for by the athlete's perception of the injury being relatively minor, or being able to manage it without medical advice. Several health professionals were consulted by the injured athletes. These included medical doctors, physiotherapist, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists. In addition, several athletes consulted multiple therapists. Athletes are generally anxious to return to their pre-injury status and often become impatient with long-term therapy. This may explain why multiple health professionals were consulted. Also, some health professionals realize the benefit to a multidisciplinary approach, and use a network of referral sources when necessary.


End of Part 4