Wrestling

01 Overview

Modern-day wrestling is a combat sport that involves two competitors attempting to gain a superior position. It is an Olympic Sport for both men and women, and is governed locally by the BC Wrestling Association. Most wrestling injuries among high school students happen during contact, whether it be contact with their opponent during a takedown or spar, or contact with the playing surface.

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

Knee injuries are common in wrestling. Muscle strains and ligament sprains account for one quarter of all severe injuries that can cause the wrestler to miss more than three weeks of participation in their sport.

Shoulder injuries are very common among male high school wrestlers, with half being sprains and strains, and a quarter being dislocations and separations. Approximately 17% of shoulder injuries result in surgery.

The elbow is sometimes injured in wrestling, most often involving a dislocation. The elbow is injured more often among high school wrestlers as compared to college-level wrestlers.

Injuries to the head, face and neck, such as lacerations, are more common in practice as compared to competition.

Injuries to the wrist, hand, and fingers are common in wrestling, particularly among youth wrestlers. High school wrestlers are more likely to injure their hands as compared to the college level.

Ankle strains and sprains account for 7% of all injuries among collegiate wrestlers, and are more likely to happen during matches as compared to practices.

02 Injury Statistics

Wrestling is a sport with one of the highest injury rates among male athletes, particularly when compared to other sports at the high school and collegiate levels. For every 1,000 times that a wrestler competes or practices, there are between 2 and 30 reported injuries. Concussions account for 5% to 10% of all wrestling injuries and are likely to result in medical disqualification from a match. Concussion rates in high school wrestling have been increasing since 2005; this may be due to increased awareness about the importance of concussion recognition and reporting.

Among youth wrestlers, the most common injury types from being driven into the mat and contact with an opponent include sprains and strains (37%-39%), fractures (22%-26%), and contusions and abrasions (15%-16%). The wrist, hand or finger account for approximately 18% of these injuries, followed by the head and neck at 15%, and the shoulder at 12% to 15%.

Curious about the research on injuries?

It is estimated that over a 4-month period, a 12-wrestler team will report:

View Summary of Incidence Rates

03 Risk Factors

Risk factors in wrestling include: competing in a match, during pre-season training, and participating in Greco-Roman style wrestling.

  • Previous Injury

    Wrestlers with a previous injury are 20 times more likely to be injured a second time, specifically with a fracture or dislocation.

  • Greco-Roman vs. Freestyle

    Greco-Roman wrestlers are three times at higher risk of injury compared to freestyle wrestlers. Greco-Roman wrestling requires athletes to attack the opponents above the waist only, whereas freestyle wrestling rules allow attacks against both the upper and lower body.

  • Match vs. Practice

    Injury rates in competition are up to five times higher than injury rates in practices. Including proper strength and balance exercises in your training regimen can help reduce the risk of injuries.

  • Pre-Season vs. Season

    Wrestlers are twice as likely to get injured during the pre-season as compared to the regular season. It is important to work on strength and conditioning in the off-season, and to gradually progress practice load during the pre-season.

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 wrestling.

  • 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

    Specific Wrestling Strength and Conditioning Exercises
    A well-rounded training program can reduce your risk of injury in wrestling. This includes strength training, particularly the muscles surrounding the joints that are at risk for injury—the shoulder, knee, ankle, and the head and neck.

    Plyometric and balance training should be incorporated into your training program. Completing balance exercises on an unstable surface can mimic wrestling mats. Resistance training can build power and endurance, which can decrease neuromuscular fatigue among wrestlers, and interval training can improve your muscular and aerobic fitness.

    Consider learning more about how to incorporate these exercises into your workouts:

      • Shoulder: Improve rotator cuff strength and strengthen the shoulder through flexibility exercises, strength training, multiplanar plyometric exercises for the upper extremities, and achieving proper muscle balance. Both weight-bearing and non-weight bearing exercises should be included.
      • Neck: Strengthen the neck through static and dynamic exercises that include rotation, flexion-extension, and side-bending. Exercises to strengthen the deep neck flexors can include: four-way neck exercises, shrugs, shoulder press, and bridge.
      • Knee and Ankle: Resistance training for the lower extremities, balance and proprioception training, and plyometrics can strengthen the knee and ankle joints. Train on a variety of surfaces and include exercises such as balancing with eyes open and closed; single-leg squats on a wrestling mat; and one-foot hops in one place, and in and around the wrestling circle.
      • Thigh: Lateral asymmetries are common among wrestlers, especially with the quadriceps muscles—adopt bilateral strength development.

    ACC SportSmart
    The New Zealand government has supported the creation of a warm-up program based on the FIFA 11+. This program has been shown to reduce injuries in rugby, and has exercises for both the upper and lower body that can be applied to wrestling.

    Learn more about ACC SportSmart, which has training videos and other resources.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help 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 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 wrestling.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Managing Concussion
    It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if a concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT)  is an online resource for participants and parents to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Equipment
    You can prevent injuries in wrestling by checking your equipment regularly to ensure that it is in good shape. Wear properly fitted equipment at all practices and matches, such as headgear.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Wrestling 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 the 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

    Specific Wrestling Strength and Conditioning Exercises
    A well-rounded training program can reduce the risk of injury in wrestling. This includes strength training, particularly the muscles surrounding the joints that are at risk for injury—the shoulder, knee, ankle, and the head and neck.

    Plyometric and balance training should be incorporated into the wrestler’s training program. Completing balance exercises on an unstable surface can mimic wrestling mats. Resistance training can build power and endurance, which can decrease neuromuscular fatigue in wrestlers, and interval training can improve muscular and aerobic fitness.

    Consider learning more about how to incorporate these exercises into your athletes’ workouts:

    • Shoulder: Improve rotator cuff strength and strengthen the shoulder through flexibility exercises, strength training, multiplanar plyometric exercises for the upper extremities, and achieving proper muscle balance. Both weight-bearing and non-weight bearing exercises should be included.
    • Neck: Strengthen the neck through static and dynamic exercises that include rotation, flexion-extension, and side-bending. Exercises to strengthen the deep neck flexors can include: four-way neck exercises, shrugs, shoulder press, and bridge.
    • Knee and Ankle: Resistance training for the lower extremities, balance and proprioception training, and plyometrics can strengthen the knee and ankle joints. Train on a variety of surfaces and include exercises such as balancing with eyes open and closed; single-leg squats on a wrestling mat; and one-foot hops in one place and in and around the wrestling circle.
    • Thigh: Lateral asymmetries are common among wrestlers, especially with the quadriceps muscles—adopt bilateral strength development.

    ACC SportSmart
    The New Zealand government has supported the creation of a warm-up program based on the FIFA 11+. This program has been shown to reduce injuries in rugby, and has exercises for both the upper and lower body that can be applied to wrestling.

    Learn more about ACC SportSmart, which has training videos and other resources.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help 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 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 wrestling.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Managing Concussion
    It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if a concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource for coaches and teachers to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

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

    Learn more about implementing wrestling in your school.

    Training
    You can reduce the risk of injury in wrestling by providing enough time for training earlier in the season, and ensuring that wrestlers are prepared for competition. Implementing pre-participation screening for your team may be important in identifying athletes who may be at higher risk of injury.

    Equipment
    You can prevent injuries in wrestling by having your athletes check their equipment regularly to ensure that it is in good shape. Wrestlers should wear properly fitted equipment at all practices and matches, such as headgear. Mats should be high-quality and replaced when needed.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Wrestling 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 the 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

    Specific Wrestling Strength and Conditioning Exercises
    A well-rounded training program can reduce the risk of injury in wrestling. This includes strength training, particularly the muscles surrounding the joints that are at risk for injury—the shoulder, knee, ankle, and the head and neck.

    Plyometric and balance training should be incorporated into the wrestler’s training program. Completing balance exercises on an unstable surface can mimic wrestling mats. Resistance training can build power and endurance, which can decrease neuromuscular fatigue in wrestlers, and interval training can improve muscular and aerobic fitness.

    Consider learning more about how coaches can incorporate these exercises into their athletes’ workouts:

    • Shoulder: Improve rotator cuff strength and strengthen the shoulder through flexibility exercises, strength training, multiplanar plyometric exercises for the upper extremities, and achieving proper muscle balance. Both weight-bearing and non-weight bearing exercises should be included.
    • Neck: Strengthen the neck through static and dynamic exercises that include rotation, flexion-extension, and side-bending. Exercises to strengthen the deep neck flexors can include: four-way neck exercises, shrugs, shoulder press, and bridge.
    • Knee and Ankle: Resistance training for the lower extremities, balance and proprioception training, and plyometrics can strengthen the knee and ankle joints. Train on a variety of surfaces and include exercises such as balancing with eyes open and closed; single-leg squats on a wrestling mat; and one-foot hops in one place and in and around the wrestling circle.
    • Thigh: Lateral asymmetries are common among wrestlers, especially with the quadriceps muscles—adopt bilateral strength development.

    ACC SportSmart
    The New Zealand government has supported the creation of a warm-up program based on the FIFA 11+. This program has been shown to reduce injuries in rugby, and has exercises for both the upper and lower body that can be applied to wrestling.

    Learn more about ACC SportSmart, which has training videos and other resources.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help 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 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 wrestling.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Managing Concussion

    It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if a concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

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

    Learn more about implementing wrestling in your school.

    Rule Enforcement
    Referees can help to prevent injuries in wrestling by being able to anticipate dangerous moves, and enforce penalties in competition for illegal and dangerous behavior.

    Training
    You can reduce the risk of injury in wrestling by providing enough time for training earlier in the season, and ensuring that wrestlers are prepared for competition. Implementing pre-participation screening for your team may be important in identifying athletes who may be at higher risk of injury. 

    Equipment
    You can prevent injuries in wrestling by having your athletes check their equipment regularly to ensure that it is in good shape. Wrestlers should wear properly fitted equipment at all practices and matches, such as headgear. Mats should be high-quality and replaced when needed

    Sport-related Physicals
    Wrestling 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 the 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 wrestling 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 wrestling to prevent re-injury or chronic injury.

    Managing Concussion

    It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource to learn more about how to diagnose and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to assess a potential concussion, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Over one-quarter of wrestling injuries may be quite severe, causing the athlete to miss more than three weeks of sport participation. It is important to ensure that a rehabilitation program allows enough time for proper training, including strength and balance training, before returning to full participation. 

    Specific Wrestling Strength and Conditioning Exercises
    A well-rounded training program can reduce the risk of injury in wrestling. This includes strength training, particularly the muscles surrounding the joints that are at risk for injury—the shoulder, knee, ankle, and the head and neck.

    Plyometric and balance training should be incorporated into the wrestler’s training program. Completing balance exercises on an unstable surface can mimic wrestling mats. Resistance training can build power and endurance, which can decrease neuromuscular fatigue in wrestlers, and interval training can improve muscular and aerobic fitness.

    Consider learning more about how coaches can incorporate these exercises into their athletes’ workouts:

    • Shoulder: Improve rotator cuff strength and strengthen the shoulder through flexibility exercises, strength training, multiplanar plyometric exercises for the upper extremities, and achieving proper muscle balance. Both weight-bearing and non-weight bearing exercises should be included.
    • Neck: Strengthen the neck through static and dynamic exercises that include rotation, flexion-extension, and side-bending. Exercises to strengthen the deep neck flexors can include: four-way neck exercises, shrugs, shoulder press, and bridge.
    • Knee and Ankle: Resistance training for the lower extremities, balance and proprioception training, and plyometrics can strengthen the knee and ankle joints. Train on a variety of surfaces and include exercises such as balancing with eyes open and closed; single-leg squats on a wrestling mat; and one-foot hops in one place and in and around the wrestling circle.
    • Thigh: Lateral asymmetries are common among wrestlers, especially with the quadriceps muscles—adopt bilateral strength development.

    ACC SportSmart
    The New Zealand government has supported the creation of a warm-up program based on the FIFA 11+. This program has been shown to reduce injuries in rugby, and has exercises for both the upper and lower body that can be applied to wrestling.

    Learn more about ACC SportSmart, which has training videos and other resources.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help 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 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 wrestling.

    Download Get Set for Android.

    Download Get Set for iOS.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Training and Equipment
    Encourage coaches, wrestlers, and administrators to provide enough time for training earlier in the season, and ensure that wrestlers are prepared for competition. Encourage regular checking of equipment to ensure that it is in good shape and properly fitted.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Wrestling 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 the risk of injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides information about preparticipation physical evaluation.

    Learn more about Preparticipation Physical Evaluation.