Kicking out: martial arts and foot injuries

As the winter weather approaches, many of us will be looking to enjoy our favourite activities and sports indoors rather than outside. For others, it’ll be ‘business as usual’ as they train in a variety of sports and activities that don’t happen outside, from taekwondo to pole dancing.

At Hunt Footcare we love hearing about the variety of indoor activities for clients enjoy, but many do come with a risk of injury to the feet. For some sports this is due to moving from running and jumping on a hard floor (as per our previous blog), or for others, the actual impact of the sport itself, such as martial arts.


Martial arts: taekwondo

One of the most popular martial arts in Canada is taekwondo. Originating in Korea, taekwondo was first included in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and has grown in popularity even since.

Taekwondo is a kick-based martial arts using a combination balance, energy preservation, striking techniques and speed. Scoring points involves landing punches and kicks to the torso of an opponent. Whilst some of the body is shielded with protective equipment, the competitors do not wear actual shoes but instead, foot protection gear known as a sock. This gives the competitors more flexibility in their foot action and protection to the top of the foot too, but it cannot fully protect against a variety of foot and ankle injuries.

Just to say that a similar level of injury risk applies across a wide variety of martial arts and activities such as dance. In comparison to many other sports, the risk of injury is lower in martial arts as a whole, but injury can and does still happen. We’re just using taekwondo as an example as it’s popular with all ages and there have been numerous studies into injuries amongst elite taekwondo athletes. (If you’d like to know more, go to Taekwondo Canada.)


Foot and ankle injuries amongst elite taekwondo athletes

There have been a number of studies into foot and ankle injuries amongst elite taekwondo athletes. A 2021 epidemiology study found that around 50% of a group of elite athletes sustained foot injuries, wit the most common being “Non-contact ligamentous ankle injuries”.

That means it’s the foot on the ground, not the one making contact with the opponent that was more likely to sustain an injury. The study recommended that:

“Improvement of strength, endurance, and postural stability under strain is recommended for prevention.”

An earlier study into taekwondo athletes found that:

“The three most common locations of presenting injury were the head (19%), foot (16%), and thigh (9%). The most common mechanism of presenting injury was found to be a defensive kick (44%), followed by an offensive kick (35%).”


Ankle strain and martial arts

Three particular movements common in martial arts can put the ankle at risk of injury;

  • The stand and kick
  • The step and punch
  • The roundhouse kick (a rotation to give the kick more force)

As one podiatrist website explains:

“Ankle sprains … often involve inversion injury to the lateral ankle ligaments as the participant bears weight on the outer edge of the foot. These same ligaments can be hurt by striking the heel so hard that the foot is pushed into plantarflexion. This can happen from heel kicking the floor as one lands to break a fall or by landing on the opponent’s foot.”

As a result, like many athletes, martial arts athletes can incur injuries such as:

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Sesamoiditis
  • Ankle sprains


Early treatment

The good news is that all these injuries can be treated in their early stages, and a steady recovery can usually be achieved through a program of rehabilitation and therapy. If you have injured your foot during training or a competition, come to us as soon as possible. Treating sports-related injuries early can prevent them getting worse and progressing to such a stage that surgery might be required.

Plantar fasciitis (heel pain)

This is one of the most common injuries we see in our foot clinics, and it is by no means exclusive to sports! In martial arts, it tends to happen as a result of the need to pivot on and elevate the supporting foot on the ground, and/or the flexing and un-flexing of the foot performing the kick. Either way, you will feel it as pain inside or underneath your heel.

For more details see our page on heel pain.

Achilles tendonitis

Your Achilles tendon is used in taekwondo a lot as it brings the foot into the right position for a kick. Taekwondo and martial arts training sessions may involve in excess of 500 kicks, so it’s small wonder that this tendon can be injured due to overuse.

For more details on leg pain and sports, including tendonitis, see our Sports Injuries page.


Sesamoiditis is caused by overuse of the plantar plate. This mechanism features two free-floating bones on your foot that sit within the flexor hallucis tendon. This plate primarily protect your first foot joint beneath your big toe, which is why sesamoiditis causes pain just beneath the big toe joint. As one practitioner explains,

“This feels like is tendinitis on steroids. The presence of inflammation in the flexor tendons is tendinitis, but the presence of the sesamoids leads to further pain.”

If you suspect you have sesamoiditis, it is particularly important that you rest and consult us as soon as possible after sustaining the injury. There is no simple way to “strap up” the foot, and “pushing through” will only cause greater pain and potential damage.


Stretching for success

Warming up before a training session or competition is essential to prevent muscle strain and tendon strains. According to Dr. Alan Ng , 1994 World Kyuk Too Ki Heavyweight Bare Knuckle Champion:

“Stretching should be performed for a minimum of fifteen minutes before performing any kicking or punching techniques.”


Concerned about a martial arts foot, ankle or leg injury?

Call us to arrange an appointment at any of our foot clinics. We’ll assess your injury, discuss the situation and create a personal recovery and rehabilitation plan that can get you back on the road to recover and back to the mat sooner than by rest alone.

Call us for an appointment at any of our three local podiatry clinics in London, Ingersoll and Stratford Ontario.

Published On: November 17, 2022