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Two boys wrestling in a gym

Combative Sports and Skin Infections

By: Eric McClung, ATC, CSCS, EMT, VATL

With wrestling season upon us, it’s important to have a discussion about one of the downsides to combative sports – skin infections. It is a case where an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure!

When it comes to prevention, the most important thing is cleanliness. Wherever your athlete is participating in their sport, make sure regular cleaning and disinfecting of the mats and other equipment occurs. Simple things an athlete can do include showering immediately after practice and washing practice clothes and gear regularly. This should occur daily for sports that include frequent skin-to-skin contact, like wrestling and martial arts. Keep in mind that outerwear touching the skin of athletes is also going from practice to home; therefore, more frequent cleaning of covers on the athlete’s bed and other areas around the house is also important. This will help decrease the chance of a virus or bacteria lingering.

Even if you do all these things, an infection of some sort may still occur. Be very careful when dismissing wounds as “mat burn.” Keep an eye on the wound, and encourage your athlete to do the same. Also, keep it covered. Look for anything that resembles infection – redness, pustules, or a wound area that is increasing in size versus healing and getting smaller. If any of these symptoms occur, your athlete should be seen by their primary care provider as soon as possible.

Some of the most common types of skin infections are:

  • Tinea corporis (ringworm) – a red circular rash with clearer skin in the middle.
  • Herpes (especially herpes gladiatorum) – a cluster (usually more than one) of clear, fluid-filled blisters that may be surrounded by redness. These blisters may or may not be painful.
  • Staphylococcus aureus (staph, or can be more serious strain, MRSA) – red, swollen or painful, area that is warm to the touch, with pus or other drainage.
  • Scabies – an intensely itchy, pimple-like rash with scales or blisters.
  • Cellulitis – an area of skin that appears swollen and red and is typically painful to the touch.

Any time you find yourself looking at something on your athlete’s skin and saying, “Hmm,” or “That doesn’t look right,” remove them from participation and seek medical attention. While the best choice is always an appointment with the athlete’s primary care physician, CHKD Urgent Care locations are also available. Getting a medical exam will not only help to keep your athlete safe, but could also prevent spreading an infection to teammates.

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About CHKD Sports Medicine

About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.

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