Fencing is a combat sport involving three different weapons that approximate those used in historic sword fights. Thrusting weapons are the fencing foil and epee; the cutting weapon is the sabre. As with any intense athletic activity that involves direct competition against an opponent, injuries can occur in fencing. Modern safety equipment has evolved to minimize, if not eliminate, the risks. Most fencing injuries today happen to the joints of the lower extremities as a result of footwork.
Fatalities in Fencing
Death in fencing is not a common occurrence, but some fatalities have occurred during its history. All of these fatal injuries share certain features in common. The majority of fatalities have occurred during epee fencing due to injuries from broken blades that developed jagged edges. The injuries were inflicted either to the throat, head or the upper body through the ribcage. All have involved elite-level male fencers, whose physical abilities may exceed the protective capacity of safety equipment.
Modern Fencing Safety Gear
Modern fencing equipment must conform to rigorous safety standards. FIE-standard fencing jackets, plastrons and knickers are rated to withstand 800N of force. A plastron, which is a half-jacket worn under the jacket to protect the chest, upper arm and underarm of the fencer's weapon hand, is mandatory. Modern fencing jackets have a sword-catcher, an extra layer of downturned fabric at the collar to prevent swordpoints from sliding past the jacket. Modern fencing masks also have an expanded, padded bib to provide additional coverage of the throat.
The Most Common Injuries in Fencing
The majority of fencing injuries are to the knees and ankles. These injuries can be chronic overuse injuries, or acute injuries that happen suddenly. The incidence of these injuries is split about evenly between practice and competition. Since most fencers spend far more time practicing than competing, however, the intensity of competition seems to increase the likelihood of injury. A fencing lunge, for example, can result in an impact equivalent to seven times your body weight on the lead foot.
The proper safety equipment will prevent the majority of weapon-related injuries. Ankle and knee injuries require some extra steps in order to prevent injury. It is important to learn proper footwork technique and practice proper form, so that no joints are stressed more than necessary. Developing proper motor patterns in practice helps to ensure that you will not overextend yourself during the heat of competition. It is also important to warm up completely, paying special attention to the lower extremities, especially before a competition. Stretching and strengthening exercises for vulnerable areas such as the knees and elbows should be part of a training program. Plyometric exercises, including box drops and repetitive bouncing after squats, should be reserved for fit, strong players, and avoided when training younger players.