Fencing

01 Overview

Fencing is a combat sport consisting of three disciplines: foil, épée, and sabre, that differ in their ‘sword’ (blade) and scoring methods. The target area in foil is the torso, the whole body is used in épée, and points in sabre fencing are only scored above the waist. Fencing is an Olympic sport and is governed locally by the BC Fencing Association. Common injuries include hamstring strains, knee injuries, and ankle injuries.

(see Section 04 - Prevention)
Athlete silhouette
View Common Injuries by clicking the blue dots on the silhouette

The knee is the most commonly injured body part during fencing, accounting for 20% of all injuries. Sprains are the most common type of knee injury. Knee injuries happen because of the ballistic movements (high speed and acceleration over a short time period), quick stop-starts, and direction changes that occur in fencing.

1% to 10% of all fencing injuries occur to the head.

Injuries to the spine and trunk account for anywhere between 3% and 23% of all fencing injuries.

Injuries to the arms, wrist, and hand are common among fencers, accounting for 20% to 55% of all injuries.

Thigh strains account for 14% of fencing injuries. Fencers will often have weaker hamstring muscles compared to their quadriceps muscles, which may contribute to this type of injury. Strengthening weaker muscles can help reduce the risk of thigh strains.

Ankle sprains are a common injury in fencing, accounting for approximately 12% of all fencing injuries. These injuries happen because of the ballistic movements (high speed and acceleration over a short time period), quick stop-starts, direction changes, and strong lunging involved in the sport.

02 Injury Statistics

Injury rates in fencing are quite low compared to other contact sports. In the Olympics, fencing injury rates are one of the lowest of all sports. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, only 2% of fencers had an injury that required medical attention. Although there is concern about laceration or puncture injuries from the fencing blade, these injuries account for a very small proportion of all fencing injuries.

The most common injuries in fencing occur in the lower extremities, including the knee, thigh and ankle, accounting for 63% of all injuries. Fencing involves ballistic movements (high speed and acceleration over a short time period) with quick stops and starts, and changes of direction. Ligament sprains and muscle strains are the most common types of fencing injuries, which account for 55% of all injuries.

Curious about the research on injuries?

It is estimated that...

View Summary of Incidence Rates

03 Risk Factors

Characteristics that may increase the risk of sustaining a fencing injury include: competing in the sabre discipline, being female, muscular strength imbalances, training and competing on a hard playing surface, footwear without midsole cushioning, and broken blades.

  • Discipline

    Fencers in the sabre discipline are at a 62% higher risk of sustaining an injury severe enough to miss competition or training, as compared to fencers in the épée and foil disciplines.

  • Muscular Strength

    Fencers often have muscle asymmetries, meaning that one leg is stronger than the other, or that the muscles in the front of the leg are stronger than the muscles in the back of the same leg, or that the musculature associated with the side of the body completing the jab movement may be stronger than the other side of the body. The front and rear legs do not switch in fencing, with each leg performing different movements, leading to imbalances. In addition, muscle imbalances in the back and shoulder can occur as the jab movement is completed with the dominant arm.

  • Footwear

    Most fencing shoes provide cushioning in the heel; however, the impact to the lower leg (tibia) during a fencing lunge is significantly lower in shoes that have midsole cushioning.

  • Sex

    Female fencers are at higher risk of sustaining a severe injury as compared to males. During a match, females are 30% more likely to sustain an injury severe enough to miss competition or training.

  • Playing Surface

    Two common pistes, or playing surfaces, in fencing include concrete with a vinyl overlay and wooden court surfaces. Compared to concrete surfaces, the impact suffered to the lower leg (tibia) during the lunge movement is lower on wooden court surfaces.

  • Broken Blades

    Although most fencing injuries are not severe, fencing with a broken blade can increase the risk of severe injury. Athletes, coaches, and officials should inspect their equipment to ensure that it is safe for competition; broken blades should not be used in training or competition.

View Summary of Risk Factors

04 How can I prevent injury?

Some muscle soreness or joint pain is expected when increasing your level of physical activity. It is important to listen to your body for persistent or worsening pain, and to know when to rest. Learn more about how to prevent injuries in fencing.

  • Participant & Parent

    Talk to your coach or organization about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Reduce the risk of injury by participating in a well-rounded training program that incorporates strengthening and balance exercises. Fencers often have muscle asymmetries, meaning that one area of musculature is stronger than the other. For example, the muscles in the front of the leg may be stronger than the muscles in the back of that same leg.

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regularly participating in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component. This is referred to as a neuromuscular training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into your training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in lower body injuries.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder, back and knee. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder strong and reduce the risk of injury. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent knee injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to fencing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Equipment and Footwear
    You can prevent injuries in fencing by checking your equipment regularly to ensure that it is in good shape and fits properly. Basic fencing equipment includes a mask, gloves, a jacket, plastron (chest protection), and breeches. It is especially important to check the blade to protect your opponent from getting injured.

    When selecting fencing footwear, choose a shoe with a slight midsole cushion. This can decrease the impact on the leg during lunging movements, decreasing the risk of overuse injuries.

    Boston Children’s Hospital
    The Boston’s Children Hospital Injury Prevention Series includes a fact sheet on Fencing.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Fencing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Coach & Teacher

    Talk to your organization or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Reduce the risk of injury by participating in a well-rounded training program that incorporates strengthening and balance exercises. Fencers often have muscle asymmetries, meaning that one area of musculature is stronger than the other. For example, the muscles in the front of the leg may be stronger than the muscles in the back of that same leg.

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regularly participating in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component. This is referred to as a neuromuscular training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into your training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in lower body injuries.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the shoulder, back and knee. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder strong and reduce the risk of injury. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent knee injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to fencing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Playing Surface
    The amount of force on the lower leg when lunging can be affected by the playing surface used during fencing. A fencing piste with a spring or cushioned surface instead of a hard, concrete surface will decrease this force and can reduce the risk of lower limb overuse injuries.

    Facilities
    The Ontario Physical Education Association (OPHEA) provides recommendations for safely implementing fencing in secondary schools.

    Learn more about implementing fencing in secondary schools.

    Equipment and Footwear
    Encourage fencers to check their equipment regularly to ensure that it is in good shape and fits properly. Basic fencing equipment includes a mask, gloves, a jacket, plastron (chest protection), and breeches. It is especially important to check the blade to protect opponents from getting injured.

    When selecting fencing footwear, fencers should choose a shoe with a slight midsole cushion. This can decrease the impact on the leg during lunging movements, decreasing the risk of overuse injuries.

    Boston Children’s Hospital
    The Boston’s Children Hospital Injury Prevention Series includes a fact sheet on Fencing.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Fencing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Official & Administrator

    Talk to your coaches, teachers, organization, or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Reduce the risk of injury by participating in a well-rounded training program that incorporates strengthening and balance exercises. Fencers often have muscle asymmetries, meaning that one area of musculature is stronger than the other. For example, the muscles in the front of the leg may be stronger than the muscles in the back of that same leg.

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regularly participating in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component. This is referred to as a neuromuscular training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into the coach’s training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in lower body injuries.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder, back and knee strong and reduce the risk of injury. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent knee injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to fencing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Rule Enforcement
    Ensure that referees are adequately trained and are enforcing rules and penalties in competition, monitoring safe use of the fencing weapon, and maintaining integrity of the facility.

    Playing Surface
    The amount of force on the lower leg when lunging can be affected by the playing surface used during fencing. A fencing piste with a spring or cushioned surface instead of a hard, concrete surface will decrease this force and can reduce the risk of lower limb overuse injuries.

    Facilities
    The Ontario Physical Education Association (OPHEA) provides recommendations for safely implementing fencing in secondary schools.

    Learn more about implementing fencing in secondary schools.

    Equipment and Footwear
    Encourage fencers to check their equipment regularly to ensure that it is in good shape and fits properly. Basic fencing equipment includes a mask, gloves, a jacket, plastron (chest protection), and breeches. It is especially important to check the blade to protect opponents from getting injured.

    When selecting fencing footwear, fencers should choose a shoe with a slight midsole cushion. This can decrease the impact on the leg during lunging movements, decreasing the risk of overuse injuries.

    Boston Children’s Hospital
    The Boston’s Children Hospital Injury Prevention Series includes a fact sheet on Fencing.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Fencing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Health Professional

    The role of health professionals in preventing fencing injuries has two main components:

    1. Providing ongoing education to participants, parents, and coaches on effective injury prevention programs such as balance and resistance training; and
    2. Ensuring that injured participants are completely healed and fit-to-perform before returning to fencing to prevent re-injury or chronic injury.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Higher tibial impact shock forces, sustained during fencing lunges, has been associated with overuse injuries in fencers. Fencers can reduce the risk of injury by participating in a well-rounded training program that incorporates strengthening and balance exercises. Fencers often have muscle asymmetries, meaning that one area of musculature is stronger than the other. For example, the muscles in the front of the leg may be stronger than the muscles in the back of that same leg.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Encouraging players, their parents, coaches, and officials to include a well-rounded training program into their warm-up at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in lower body injuries.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder, back and knees strong and reduce the risk injury. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent knee injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Get Set Neuromuscular Training
    The Get Set app contains exercises that can be done at home. Created by the Oslo Sports Trauma Center, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, and Making Waves AS in 2014 for the International Olympic Committee, the app allows you to search by body part to view exercises that work to strengthen each area of the body, or search by sport to view a library of exercises that are specific to fencing.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Playing Surface
    The amount of force on the lower leg when lunging can be affected by the playing surface used during fencing. A fencing piste with a spring or cushioned surface instead of a hard, concrete surface will decrease this force and can reduce the risk of lower limb overuse injuries.

    Equipment and Footwear
    Encourage fencers to check their equipment regularly to ensure that it is in good shape and fits properly. Basic fencing equipment includes a mask, gloves, a jacket, plastron (chest protection), and breeches. It is especially important to check the blade to protect opponents from getting injured.

    When selecting fencing footwear, fencers should choose a shoe with a slight midsole cushion. This can decrease axial tibial shock on the leg during lunging movements, decreasing the risk of overuse injuries.

    Boston Children’s Hospital
    The Boston’s Children Hospital Injury Prevention Series includes a fact sheet on Fencing.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Fencing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to play can help to reduce risk of injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides information about preparticipation physical evaluation.

    Learn more about Preparticipation Physical Evaluation.