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Injury incidence, severity and profile in Olympic combat sports: a comparative analysis of 7712 athlete exposures from three consecutive Olympic Games


Objectives To describe and compare the epidemiology of competition injuries in unarmed combat sports (ie, boxing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling) in three consecutive Olympic Games.

Methods Prospective cohort study using injury data from the IOC injury surveillance system and exposure data from official tournament records at three consecutive Olympic Games (ie, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016). Competition injury incidence rates per 1000 min of exposure (IIRME) were calculated with 95% CIs using standard formulae for Poisson rates.

Results The overall IIRME was 7.8 (95% CI 7.0 to 8.7). The IIRME in judo (9.6 (95% CI 7.8 to 11.7)), boxing (9.2 (95% CI 7.6 to 10.9)) and taekwondo (7.7 (95% CI 5.6 to 10.5)) were significantly higher than in wrestling (4.8 (95% CI 3.6 to 6.2)). The proportion of injuries resulting in >7 days absence from competition or training was higher in wrestling (39.6%), judo (35.9%) and taekwondo (32.5%) than in boxing (21.0%). There was no difference in injury risk by sex, weight category or tournament round, but athletes that lost had significantly higher IIRME compared with their winning opponents (rate ratio 3.59 (95% CI 2.68 to 4.79)).

Conclusion Olympic combat sport athletes sustained, on average, one injury every 2.1 hours of competition. The risk of injury was significantly higher in boxing, judo and taekwondo than in wrestling. About 30% of injuries sustained during competition resulted in >7 days absence from competition or training. There is a need for identifying modifiable risk factors for injury in Olympic combat sports, which in turn can be targeted by injury prevention initiatives to reduce the burden of injury among combat sport athletes.

  • sporting injuries
  • boxing
  • judo
  • martial arts

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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