Wrestling isn’t a sport for the faint of heart. It involves getting your body twisted into awkward holds, with common problems ranging from skin diseases to “cauliflower ear.”
Zaid Khatib, MD, is a former Revere High School wrestler and coach who is now a second-year fellow with the Akron Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine team. He shares tips on how to treat common wrestling conditions and prevent them from returning.
This problem occurs when the bursa sac in the front of the kneecap swells with fluid. “Prepatellar bursitis can occur with repetitive trauma, such as the knee hitting the wrestling mat, or acute trauma or infection,” Dr. Khatib said. “We can treat a lot of these cases conservatively. But a sports medicine physician or orthopedic surgeon should always evaluate the area to make sure it doesn’t look infected. For many cases, we use compression and ice to reduce the swelling until the fluid absorbs back into the body. Wrestlers often return to the mat in a week or so, but sometimes the bursa sac does have to be drained.”
Wrestlers can prevent the condition from returning by wearing kneepads, along with applying ice and elevating their knees after practice or meets.
Auricular Hematoma (aka “Cauliflower Ear”)
This happens when the ear gets injured, whether due to ongoing friction against an opponent or direct trauma. The ear fills up with blood and starts to scar. “It’s important to get the ear drained as soon as possible. If you let it go too long, you’ll risk an external ear deformity,” Dr. Khatib explained. “If you get it taken care of quickly, you can be back to competition a week or two later.”
To keep cauliflower ear from coming back, it’s critical for wrestlers to wear their headgear. “Every minute of every practice and every meet,” Dr. Khatib urged. “Wrestlers need to be diligent about using their protective equipment, so they don’t end up back in the doctor’s office.”
Other common foes of wrestlers include ringworm, impetigo and herpes gladiatorum. “These conditions spread due to contact from one wrestler to another,” Dr. Khatib said. “Ringworm is a skin fungus that gets its name from the ring-like rash it forms. Impetigo is a bacterial infection, and herpes gladiatorum is like the cold sore virus on the skin.”
Ringworm is the most common skin problem among wrestlers. “Almost every wrestler will eventually get it,” Dr. Khatib said, “but it’s something primary care physicians can treat.”
The National Federation of State High School Associations’ (NFHS) Sports Medicine Advisory Committee offers a skin lesion form that includes basic treatment tips and time frames for returning to competition. “If you suspect you have ringworm, put an antifungal, over-the-counter athlete’s foot cream on the rash,” Dr. Khatib explained. “Then call for an appointment with your primary care physician, and take the NFHS skin lesion form with you.”
If a wrestling-related skin problem does not improve with treatment, then call a sports medicine specialist. “A few local wresting programs experienced outbreaks of herpes gladiatorum this season,” Dr. Khatib shared. “The condition resembles impetigo, and it got misdiagnosed. You have to treat wrestlers with skin conditions differently than you would other people – often with oral antibacterial or antiviral medicine for athletes instead of just a skin cream – to minimize the risk of spreading.”
Regarding prevention of skin diseases, Dr. Khatib recommends that wrestling programs make disinfecting a part of their daily routines. “Wrestling mats and equipment should be washed or disinfected every day,” he said. “In addition, athletes should shower after every practice or meet. Use a fresh towel every time you shower, and be sure to wash your gear as well.”