Are Broken Bones Common in MMA?

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If you’ve watched enough UFC on the TV, you might have been present to see professional fighters snap bones in front of your eyes.

It often happens when a fighter checks a low leg kick and snaps his own tibia bone across his opponents. The leg swinging with the most force against a grounded shin is only too common to result in a fracture.

Broken bones are relatively common in MMA fighting. The most common break is the small bones inside of the hand, as they aren’t designed for the impact of punching. Most common of all is to break the fourth/last knuckle in the hand, which is often called the boxer’s fracture.

In this article, I’ll answer a lot of the common questions about bone breaks in the sport of MMA so keep on reading if you want to learn even more about it!

Can you break a bone in MMA?

Mixed Martial Artists can risk breaking a bone throughout training, sparring, and live fights. Mixed martial arts training can include a variety of punches, kicks, limb locks, and throws and because of this, there is a lot of potential for a bone to break.

In my early sessions of BJJ, I was easily injured multiple times. The first being an armbar that I had no idea how to counter and my elbow was pulled slightly out of its socket causing me many issues for the next year.

Shortly after the armbar I was thrown over my sparring partner and landed on their knuckles, sending my spine into spasm and out of action for weeks.

Luckily I haven’t broken anything just yet. *Touch wood* But there’s still time.

What are the 3 most common broken bones in MMA?

Fighters most commonly experience broken bones in the hands behind their third and fourth knuckles. The second most common bone to break is the nose from taking hits to the face. The third most common is orbital fractures around the eye sockets.

It’s pretty regular for a hand to have broken bones either during fights in the cage or even from repetitive sparring or bag work.

Noses break pretty easily and once broken once are highly likely to continue to break which is probably what makes them the second most common broken bone in boxing, too.

A break around the eye socket, an orbital fracture, is a pretty serious injury but happens quite often in official fight events when the combatants are putting everything behind their strikes.

A fracture around the eye is so serious that the whole fight can be called off or ended prematurely as they need to seek medical attention immediately. If the break causes too much blood to fall around the eye, then the eye itself can be in a lot of trouble as well.

What moves are illegal in MMA?

There are many illegal moves in MMA that are governed by the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.

There are many illegal moves in the UFC such as grabbing the fence, pulling hair, grabbing shorts or gloves of the opponent, biting, fish hooks, head-butts, eye-gouging, and many more.

Committing a “foul” or illegal move allows the referee, at their discretion, to deduct points from the fighter who made the offense. Enough foul moves can end up in a disqualification, “no contest” if the offense was accidental but stops the fight due to injury, or potentially technical win for the injured fighter as well.

There are other illegal moves in MMA that are less likely to actually happen or cause point deductions or injuries, but are still in the rules:

  • Groin shots or “low blow”
  • Putting finger into opponent’s orifice (that would be pretty surprising, no?)
  • Trying to manipulate small joints, such as a toe. In grappling submissions and locks should only be applied to bigger stable joints
  • Splayed fingers, which is actually a really common issue in defending or to control their opponents movements better but easily end up eye gouging because of it accidentally
  • Attacking the throat or neck
  • Kicks or knee strikes of a grounded fighter, grounded being when the fighter has extra body parts touching the mat than just the soles of their feet

So you can see it would be pretty vital for MMA athletes to know these rules in some detail to avoid risking losing a match just for using the wrong attacks.

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Is breaking bones legal in MMA?

Whilst it isn’t illegal for fighters to break a bone unintentionally during submissions attempts, they must be giving their opponent a sufficient amount of time to “tap out” for it to be a legal submission attempt. If a bone snaps in a prolonged lock, then it would be considered incidental.

Are UFC fighters allowed to break limbs?

Breaking a limb in a UFC fight is always an accident or incidental part of submission locks or strikes gone wrong from a high force output. UFC fighters can break their limbs by throwing big leg kicks that are blocked or by refusing to tap out in a submission.

Seeing a broken limb is still not hugely common in the UFC, and having different weight classes in the UFC helps to make sure fighters are equally balanced in power and force from their physical weight.

Are UFC fighters allowed to break arms?

UFC fighters are not allowed to intentionally break their opponent’s arm. But arm breaks are a common consequence of submission locks like the armbar. Most fighters would tap out before reaching a point of breaking but UFC fighters have broken their arms, elbows, and shoulders just by refusing to submit.

BJJ practitioners practicing an armbar submission.

The armbar is a pretty common lock in practicing BJJ. It can be fun to learn how to get into this position and it is highly effective as it doesn’t take a lot of strength to become very uncomfortable for the opponent receiving it.

Are you allowed to break fingers in MMA?

It isn’t an allowed or legal move to intentionally break an opponents’ fingers in MMA. Whilst fingers may be pretty common to crack because of the outstretched hands and grappling involved, it is almost always incidental.

Fingers can cause various other issues in MMA, particularly their ability to actually inflict fight-ending damage to an opponent’s eye.

Mixed martial arts fighters often keep their fingers outstretched to keep their opponent further away from them or to maximize the surface area in protecting their head.

But in doing so, they can often end up poking their opponent in the eye and cause a variety of injuries from it.

Is finger breaking allowed in UFC?

Finger breaking isn’t allowed in the UFC. But that doesn’t mean that breaking a finger isn’t common. Fighters can often shatter the small bones in their fingers and hands just by throwing punches and catching the opponent at the wrong angle.

Can you break a neck with a neck crank?

Many MMA fighters will try to use a neck crank to submit their opponent. But it is highly unlikely that a neck could fracture from a neck crank, as it would require over a thousand pounds of torque force to be able to impact the bones in the neck.

MMA students practicing a neck crank on the mat

It is still possible for the neck crank to cause serious injury which could then lead to much worse complications and even become fatal.

The neck crank can be resisted by most people at the early stages of it being applied, but even during light application of the neck crank it can cause a lot of damage to muscles or even cause herniations in the upper/neck part of the spine. This is what makes the neck crank so risky to withstand and if a fighter has the option to tap out, they should probably take it.

How do MMA fighters not break their hands?

MMA fighters can often break the small bones in their hands with throwing strikes and even defending them. It’s a common issue for boxers and mixed martial artists alike. In fact many will break their hands during a fight but continue on to try and win.

Do MMA fighters break their toes?

It is common to break a toe during MMA training, sparring, or a fight. It’s all too easy to throw a leg kick and make heavy contact with the foot/toes, instead of correctly using the shin, landing onto sharp elbows or even the edges of pads too many times.

I’ve done it myself, so I know very well. For me, wearing shin guards in sparring helped me to protect my shins very nicely but the section which attaches to the foot can often be loose and makes it a bit more difficult to land a kick on your opponent as you need to judge the distance correctly.

If you are too close to your opponent then you’ll be all knees and not enough space for a powerful swing of the leg. If you are too far away from the opponent then clipping your foot or worse your toes across your opponents body parts can be an easy way to muscle damage in the toes and even breaks.

Do MMA fighters wear mouth guards?

Professional MMA fighters will always wear custom mouth guards to protect their teeth and jaw during a fight. It is a requirement for fighters to wear one in all fight levels because strikes to the jaw cause damage to the brain for which a custom mouth guard defends against significantly.

Boil and Bite Mouth Guard
What a simple boil and bite mouth guard looks like

The simple boil and bite mouth guard goes a long way for the safety of the teeth.

A custom mouthguard is specifically designed around the exact measurements of a fighter’s teeth and jawline, ensuring that the fit has minimal gaps or pockets of air.

The custom mouth guards are what professional fighters will use. Not only because it protects their teeth and jaw from damage, but the concept of “biting down” on the mouthpiece allows them to withstand blows and deliver them with more ferocity as well.

Do MMA fighters lose teeth?

Even though MMA fighters are often taking strikes directly to the face, they don’t lose teeth very often. At the professional level of MMA, such as the UFC, fighters are required to wear custom mouth guard pieces which give a very high protection level in the jaw and teeth.

Most fighters or students of martial art sports are likely to lose a few teeth when they’re not wearing any mouthguard at all.

Final Thoughts

So it’s often pretty wild out there in the world of mixed martial arts. Those who fight in the cage risk breaking a bone, most commonly in their hand, nose, or eye socket.

And even beyond that, many athletes in this sport can find entire joints breaking under the pressure of submission locks like the armbar.

They also risk breaking their tibia when striking an opponent’s leg – if the block is just right then, it’s like trying to kick concrete. Something has to break with all that impact.

If you’re thinking about getting into MMA training, I don’t think you should worry about breaking bones. These things happen, sure, but they also happen in ANY other sport in the world at similar rates. The important thing is to get stuck in and just enjoy it!

1 thought on “Are Broken Bones Common in MMA?”

  1. Various medical and rehabilitation specialists treat sports-related injuries. Those who require surgical treatment may receive care from an orthopedic surgeon. One type of physician that may be involved is a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist (physiatrist). Many physicians also specialize in the realm of sports medicine. They may be board-certified in emergency medicine, internal medicine or physical medicine and rehabilitation and have completed additional training in sports medicine.


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