Tae Kwon Do (TKD) is a dynamic Olympic sport practiced throughout the world. Many children participate in it but few continue on to the elite levels (as with most things). Interestingly, while injury rates in European and American football are regularly talked about in the media at large, injury rates from martial arts never seem to surface. With children as young as 4 participating in classes and as young as 6 competing, some understanding of the risk should be involved in the decision making process.
Lystad, et al; 2009 compiled a meta-analysis of TKD injuries. Using a Poisson random effects regression model, they determined the overall mean injury rate to be 79.3 per 1000. This is enormous. Americcan football by comparison has 35.9, European football is at 18.8 and basketball is at 9.9 (all per 1000).
The most frequent injuries were to the foot, ankle and knee (40.2%), followed by to the head and neck (24%). The upper extremity made up 11.6% while the trunk made up 3.5%. This indicates 0.9% of injuries were not classified. Given TKD’s emphasis of head and high line kicks, this is not surprising. Contusions and abrasions seemed to be the most common complaint making up 36% of all reports. Sprains made up 12.5%, lacerations were at 9.1%, fractures at 5.4%, concussions at 5.4%, strains at 3.4%, other at 3% and dislocation at 0.6%.
So while the chance of a serious injury is low, the overall chance of injury is quite high compared to most other youth sports. We are not trying to dissuade anyone from practicing TKD. If you or your child is interested in practicing, make sure you have a qualified coach and that basic precautions are taken during sparring.