Is Folkstyle Wrestling Dangerous?

Are you thinking of training folkstyle wrestling or signing your kid up? Well before you decide it is the right sport for you or your family it is wise to look at the statistics and see if the potential injury risks are worth it.

Is Folkstyle Wrestling Dangerous?

Folkstyle wrestling is the most dangerous college sport with an injury rate of 13.1 per 1000 athlete exposures. This is higher than college football (9.2 per 1000 athlete exposures) and twice as high as the average injury rate for college sport (6 per 1000 athlete exposures).

Gable Steveson of Minnesota (rear) takes down Mason Parris of Michigan en route to an 8-6 decision in the 285-pound final bout at the Big Ten Wrestling Championships at the RAC in Piscataway, N.J. on Sunday, March 8, 2020. (Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media) Andrew Mills | NJ Advance Media for

CDC researchers analysed injury data from the NCAA Injury Surveillance Program (NCAA-ISP) from a sample of college sports programs to estimate the average injury rate from 2009–10 through to 2013–14. CDC analysis estimates that 1,053,370 injuries and 176.7 million athlete-exposures to potential injury (an athlete’s participation in a single match or training session) occurred during this time frame.

Based on this research folkstyle wrestling was found to have the highest overall injury rate (13.1 per 1,000 athlete exposures) and the highest training injury rate (10.2 per 1,000 athlete exposures) of any college sport including football.

Surprisingly, college football had a lower overall injury rate (9.2 per 1000 athlete exposures) compared to folkstyle wrestling. However, college football’s competition injury rate was slightly higher than folkstyle wrestling’s competition injury rate (both slightly below 40 per 1000 athlete exposures).

What Are The Most Common Folkstyle Wrestling Injuries?

The most common folkstyle wrestling injuries are tears, sprains and contusions. These injuries typically occur to wrestlers’ knees, ankles and shoulders. Most injuries are minor with only 6.3% requiring surgery.

Folkstyle regularly strain, sprain and tear their shoulders, knees and ankles. Injuries to these areas of wrestlers account for 34.6% of all injuries.

The most common area that folkstyle wrestlers are injured is their skin. Folkstlye wrestlers routinely suffer from cuts, bruises and skin infections. Skin injuries are responsible for 17.5% of all folkstyle injuries. Skin injuries are also responsible for 16.4% of total training days missed due to injury.

However, skin injuries are nearly always minor and rarely if ever require surgery or cause long term damage.

Folkstyle wrestlers are also likely to injure their head and face. These injuries are typically contusions, cuts and cauliflower ear. Head and face injuries make up 16.7% of all injuries. These are usually minor and are only responsible for 4% of missed training time due to injury.

Abdomen injuries are the most unlikely to affect folkstyle wrestlers and only cause 0.7% of all injuries.

The vast majority of wrestling injuries are not serious. Only 6.3% of injuries require surgery and 37.6% of injuries requiring more than a week off from training.

The most dangerous place to be injured if you are a folkstyle wrestler is the knee. Knee injuries make up 58.1% of all wrestling injuries that require surgery while shoulder injuries make up 23%.

Concussions are fairly rare in folkstyle, accounting for 3.3% of injuries. Football has a concussion rate twice as high as wrestling (0.25 per 1000 vs 0.54 per 1000).

How Do Folkstyle Wrestling Injuries Occur?

Folkstyle wrestling injuries typically occur during competition or sparring. Injuries are the result of direct contact during takedowns, often being caused by awkward falls under bodyweight or athletes twisting their limbs past the natural range of motion.

Folkstyle wrestling competition is almost 4 times as dangerous as training (38 per 1000 vs 10.2 per 1000). This is because wrestlers are moving at 100% speed, throwing their opponent with all their strength and taking risks to score and avoid being scored on.

Folkstyle wrestlers are most likely to be injured when they are being taken down. Injuries usually occur when they fall at a bad angle under the crushing body weight of their opponent.

Folkstyle wrestlers often land on their shoulder, have their knee twisted or have their head collide with the mat. This can result in some nasty injuries such as contusions, tears, concussions and dislocations.

For example if a folkstyle wrestler gets picked up in the air and as they are about to be slammed they instinctively post with their arm, the result can be a broken arm or dislocated elbow or shoulder.

Head and face injuries are typically the cause of accidental strikes. Folkstyle wrestlers will often accidentally headbutt each other while fighting for dominance in the neutral position.

The occasional elbow strike is not uncommon when wrestlers are breaking grips. They will also grind against each other, ear to ear, often causing cauliflower ear.

Folkstyle wrestlers can also hurt their head, neck or shoulder when shooting takedowns and running directly into their opponent’s knee or hip.

This is especially common when the defending wrestler thrusts his hips forward to defend against an incoming shot. The attacking wrestler will often bounce off and be left nursing a sore neck or shoulder.

Folkstyle wrestlers can easily strain or tear their shoulder, hip, or knee muscles and ligaments when they become overextended when defending or attacking takedowns.

Athletes regularly tear and strain their shoulders when they have failed a shot and are stuck under the sprawl of the defending wrestler. In an effort to complete the takedown they hold on and bring the defender’s leg in close to them. 

This can cause strains and tears as the defending wrestler drives their hips backwards, while placing their whole weight on the attacking wrestler and at the same time moves to the side. This places an enormous strain on the attacker’s shoulder.

Folkstyle wrestlers often hurt themselves when they explosively change direction and find themselves in rapid scrambles in an effort to outmanoeuvre their opponent to complete or prevent a takedown.

For example wrestler A shoots a takedown, Wrestler B then escapes but quickly side stepping Wrestler B reattacks and gets a hold of Wrestler A’s leg, Wrestler A then hops around on one leg before explosively turning his body and kicking out of the single leg.

This is a common scramble in wrestling but as the wrestlers are moving so fast and at different angles the result is often a twisted ankle or knee.


If you have suffered injuries in the past or are concerned about suffering future injuries then you should consider avoiding folkstyle wrestling. Folkstyle wrestling is the most dangerous of all college sports and puts athletes in jeopardy of injuring their knees, backs, ankles, shoulders, elbows and necks. 

While most injuries are minor sprains and tears, serious injuries requiring surgery are not uncommon (6.3% of all injuries) and many former wrestlers suffer from chronic back and necks issues.

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