Everyone knows that athletes can and do get injured. Whether the sport being played is football or baseball, there are chances of getting injured during contact or from simply pulling a muscle or twisting a knee.

Of course, no one ‘plays’ MMA but nonetheless, injuries will happen. Any contact sport brings with it risks and martial arts such as boxing, jiu-jitsu, and kickboxing bring a higher chance of injury than other sports. One additional area that some people may not consider though is the risk of infection.

Contact sports are just that; competitors make ‘contact’ with each other. This brings the risk of infection, which can come in many forms. It is important for trainers and athletes alike to know the risks and how to prevent any transmissions from fighter to fighter. 

Contact sports

These are any sport that involves bodily contact between two players or fighters. Some sports such as volleyball would not be defined as a contact sport as there is no rule that allows any contact. Other sports may have a varying amount of contact involved but football, soccer, rugby, hockey, and lacrosse all lie in this category. However, sports such as mixed martial arts, judo, boxing, and wrestling would contain a very high amount of contact. This naturally increases the chances of getting an infection from another fighter. 

What types of infections are there?

According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information the most common types of infection for contact sports are bacterial skin infections along with conjunctivitis, head lice, and warts. There are many more including the herpes virus and hepatitis C. Some are less common than others and also more dangerous such as HIV.

It isn’t just the athletes themselves who are at risk. After Tommy Morrison fought against Lennox Lewis back in 1995, Morrison tested positive for HIV leading the referee to take a test as he too had been exposed to blood from the fight.

How can you avoid getting infections?

As many of these infections are from contact that is impossible to avoid in MMA you will need to look at the best ways to prevent infection in the first place. By looking after yourself and your equipment then you are doing your part. It takes all athletes and fighters to be responsible in this area and then the risk of any infection will be reduced greatly.

Different infections are transmitted in differing ways. Lice are transmitted from head to head. Skin diseases are from bodily contact. Fungal problems such as ringworm and athlete’s foot can be transmitted without any personal contact at all. This last area highlights the need for floors and shower stalls to be cleaned thoroughly. Mats, towels, and other equipment can all transmit infections too. Other infections can be transmitted through blood too. 

Preventative actions you can take

  • Washing hands regularly is more important than ever now coronavirus is rife. Liquid soap is best if it is in a communal area but if you have your own then use a specialist one like Gold BJJ’s soap. An antibacterial soap like this can be used for hands and body.
  • Showering after training or fighting. Continuing on the theme of washing, it is a good idea to get a shower straight away whenever possible.
  • Regularly wash your kit. Any uniforms or other kit should be cleaned after use. Bacteria can breed in any moist area like boxing gloves.
  • Wear gloves in the gym. Dumbells and other gym equipment can be covered in germs and bacteria. If you wear gloves you will reduce the contact your skin makes. Remember to clean the gloves after though.
  • Don’t share equipment. This applies to all equipment from towels, razors, mouth guards to water bottles.

What to look for

Different infections will appear in a variety of ways. You may first notice redness or itching. It may be that you have swelling or a rash. If there is soreness or pain that doesn’t seem to relate to any training or fighting injury then you may have an infection 

Some infections such as staph and cellulitis can start from the tiniest cut. This is even more likely if the cut is on the foot. Keep an eye out for any break in the skin and if you have one make sure it stays clean and dry. Cellulitis is an especially painful and potentially fatal disease that comes from the tiniest amount of bacteria.

Athletes should be regularly checked. Looking after your health as an amateur MMA fighter or a professional is important. All fighters should have regular examinations for infections. If a fighter themselves notices something wrong they should have a medical professional examine them as soon as possible.

Is it ok to carry on fighting and training with an infection?

Removal from fighting and training is necessary while treatment is conducted. Any communicable infection should be kept away from others until it has been successfully treated. This means no fighting or sparring to reduce contact. Training is perfectly fine but in private. Using a public or shared gym will put others at risk.

Keeping your family safe

Of course, if you are infected it will be impossible not to have contact with your loved ones so you will need to reduce any risk of infections. By observing the earlier advice you will reduce any chance of passing the infection on. If you have head lice then wash every family member’s hair with medicated shampoo. If you have a skin infection then sleep separately from your partner if possible. Make sure everyone scrubs their hands regularly and no one shares towels or soap. Wipe down bathroom surfaces and clean the bat and shower after use.

What are the risks of re-infection?

Unfortunately, sports such as MMA carry a higher chance of infection from bacterial or viral diseases. As for re-infection, it is no more likely than catching the disease in the first place. Prevention is really the best option. If an athlete is injured then the wound must be properly covered in training to reduce any risk of infection.

How are these infections treated?

It depends on the type of infection that has been transmitted. Some infections such as lice are dealt with by means of a special shampoo and comb. Other infections may be treated with a topical cream or antibiotics. A serious infection may need pus to be drained and in the case of MRSA, you may need to be treated with intravenous medication. 


For MMA fighters, trainers, and other athletes involved in contact sports, infection is an unwanted but common risk. Using special soaps, washing regularly, and using clean, dry equipment can minimize risks. It isn’t just enough to buy the best boxing gloves but keeping them and other kit clean and dry is a must. However, the most solid way to avoid infection is by all members of the sport following these guidelines and more. Fighting or training in public while knowingly having an infection, no matter how innocuous it seems, is putting others at risk. Staying as hygienic as possible, not sharing equipment, and taking a break from fighting to recover when necessary will help to keep you and your fellow athletes safer.


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