Medical services for MMA fighters
We love Mixed Martial Arts, we all have our favourite fighters, favourite fights. The levels to which it’s competitors must reach in terms of skill and fitness is perhaps unsurpassed in any other sport. But behind the scenes, what level of safety and protection do these fighters receive as they complete.
We spoke with Phil Griffith of Ringside Medical in the UK. Currently, the only company in the UK who supply fully qualified and experienced paramedics for combat sports events. We wanted to ask Phil what the state of play was with regards to the well being of fighters at these events and how well trained are medics, as opposed to fully trained paramedics.
What does a typical MMA event entail, bumps, bruises and beforehand? And how does MMA safety stack up against other mainstream sports?
“Our staff are at the top of their game in emergency medicine. They have all got many many years of experience. All of our teams have got at least one paramedic. Their partner will be another medical technician who is also trained in all the life-saving techniques and skills. The only difference is they can’t administer quite as many drugs as a paramedic. But our teams turn up with some of the best kit available.
It’s all brand new state of the art kit. We have a defibrillator if anyone goes in cardiac arrest. We have full resuscitation kit so we can incubate, so we can put the tube down someone’s throat which sits in their trachea and we can then ventilate them through that. We carry a full set of paramedic drugs. So we have everything…
..and it’s not just for the fighters, The competitors tend to be fit and be healthy, so the chance of them having a medical problem like a cardiac arrest is quite small. It’s the audience members who can range from very young to very old. So all the license kits there in case of the worst eventuality. Touchwood we haven’t had to use it at a sporting event yet.”
How does that compare to some of these other services who carry the title of medics?
“Some of them literally have a satchel that’s got a few dressings in there, a few bandages. They won’t have a full resuscitation kit. Some may have an automatic defibrillator, but how skilled they are at using it.. that’s a question I’d like to ask them. They won’t carry any drugs, they may have a bottle of oxygen, but they won’t have any life-saving drugs and they won’t have the skills to incubate patients or clear their airways. Put drips in things like that.
They’ll basically be there for just the first aid. So if someone did have a cardiac arrest, I suppose the most they could do is CPR. Whereas we would be ventilating, administering drugs and supporting their airways with ventilation. So we’d be using a lot more skill. which would give someone a lot better chance of survival.
And also there can be some nasty injuries in any sports. Something as simple as pain relief. A private ambulance crew is unlikely to have anything stronger as perhaps gas and air. We’d have injectables, pain relief that can really knock the pain on the head. Or at least start easing the pain while we’re waiting to convey them to the local hospital.”
When it comes to the health of the fighters. What type of checks take place before the bout begins?
“Yes, a couple of hours before the fight, it’s about 10- 15+ minutes per competitor. We’ll go through a list of questions. We have a form to fill out which will ask about the fighters medical history.
But also we want to know that they haven’t had any accidents or injuries in the last few days leading up to the fight. We need to make sure that they are fully fit to go in.
We do their blood pressure, pulse, we check their blood sugars, blood oxygen levels, various bits and bobs. We examine their face and hands and make sure there are no injuries we can see which may get worse when they are competing.
And then directly after the fight, we’ll examine them directly again. Just to make sure there are no injuries that could cause them problems further down the line.”
What are the typical injuries and what are the worst injuries which you have come covering MMA events?
“Typical injuries are like broken noses, cuts on the face. Dislocated shoulders are really common and extremely painful as well… Some of the more unpleasant injuries that we’ll see, especially in MMA are fractures to the lower leg bones, so the tibia and fibula from kicks where they get kicked into the leg. We’ve had some nasty compound fractures where the bones break and actually protrudes through the skin. From our point of view, that’s a lot of pain relief that we give. We provide traction which is something that a first aider can’t do.
Where the bones broke the two ends of the bone tend to move past each other and it shortens the leg which then can compromise blood flow and cause nerve damage. So what we do is we then pull the leg straight. It’s horrific if you haven’t seen it before.
You can hear the crepitus of the bones crunching against each other as you are doing it. It’s incredibly painful for whoever you are doing it too. But that’s why we fill them full of pain relief medication beforehand.
Most Common Injuries
Most common, obviously you have the KO’s which usually aren’t too severe. It does require a bit of aftercare because you got to make sure they recover fully.
You got to assess all their neurological deficits and make sure they are fully alert afterwards and there no signs that could cause them any problems…
Most people who are KO’ed, they are usually coming back out of it as they hit the canvas. So they’ll have a good chin shot, they’ll be knocked out as they are going down. But then once they hit the canvas, they recover very quickly.
If they don’t we go on, give them a bit of oxygen. We immobilise their spine, but until they are conscious we can’t test their spine.
So once they are fully conscious again, we’ll examine their spine and if we can clear that. We’ll walk them off and sit them down and give them oxygen for 10 – 15 minutes and then do a full examination afterwards.”
Certain countries still ban the sport, certain politicians deciding they don’t like it and who believe it’s very dangerous. Looking at the actual stats for deaths in sports. To date, MMA has had far fewer deaths when you compare it to some of the more common sportspeople partake in! Can you dispel any of the hearsay surrounding fatalities?
“Working in the ambulance service, I have never ever in thirteen and a half years been called to any boxing club, any arena or martial arts centre or any event for an injury for MMA or boxing. Obviously, they do happen but most of them are dealt with by the crews there, so they’re not particularly serious. I’ve certainly never heard of death locally.
But in the same length of time, I myself working on an NHS ambulance. I’ve probably been to 8 or 10 fatal horse riding accidents, where people are competing in horse-riding events, so that puts perspective on it. So a sport where most people would be happy for their 6 or 7-year-old daughters to take part in like horse riding. Has a lot more deaths than contact sports or martial arts.”
Ringside Medical is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of sporting medical cover, specialising in Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts events.
Image courtesy of UFC.com, Bellatormma