I want to try fencing with a friend, but I think he may be worried about safety. What are the main injury risks for fencing and how common are they?
I am an assistant fencing coach for a collegiate club.
Several injury risks I've encountered:
Poked in the eye/face/chest/"below the belt"/etc: This is most common. Being accidentally poked in some places are less severe than others, but it is still a common risk. In addition, the tip at the end of your fencing weapon may be loose or missing. A weapon without a tip is more painful than with one.
Twisted ankles (ligament tears are less common, but possible): In some fencing positions, one is susceptible to twisted ankles/ligament tears simply by shifting your weight the wrong way. An example: After a lunge, you can twist your ankle causing the rest of that side of your lower body to collapse. A member actually suffered ligament tears in her knee when I was a student, and was in a full leg brace for about a year.
To prevent these risks:
Safety first. Use common sense. Don't put yourself or others at risk.
Take time to learn the fundamentals. Many people are interested in fencing because it "looks cool," but these same people lose interest because they are not willing to put forth effort to learn the fundamentals. In my club, if you think you're going to use a weapon during your first month of drills, think again. It is not a toy.
When fencing, wear appropriate fencing gear. This includes:
- Underarm protector (plasteron)
- Chest protector (mandatory for females; optional for males)
- Protective Cup (for males)
- Knee-length socks
- Fencing shoes (recommended, but tennis or court shoes and sneakers will suffice)
My club only requires socks, sneakers, and appropriate attire (t-shirt, gym shorts) for warm-ups, conditioning, and drills. When a weapon is involved, we require most of the gear listed above. We are lenient about the underarm protector, knickers, and knee-length socks (as long as the body is covered, sweats for example as an alternative to knickers and knee-high socks)...but we are stringent about the rest, especially a mask.
NOTE: Even if you're fencing lightly (or horsing around), wear gear. Accidents are most common when we are not at an appropriate awareness level. That, compounded with not wearing gear, can result in a costly accident that could have been easily prevented.
Scan your equipment before use. Make sure the equipment you are using is in good, maintained condition. As I state above, a weapon without a tip is more painful than with one. This can be easily prevented if you take a careful look over your equipment before you use it. If something doesn't look right, let someone (who knows what they are doing) know.
Hope this helps, and hope I didn't scare you and your friend away ;)
Fencing is really very safe as long as you go to a real club and follow directions. Any risks of injury are the same for other leg-heavy sports.
• Make sure to drink plenty of water
• Stretch and warm-up before and after (especially stretch your quads and athletic lunges)
• Pay attention to form when learning advances, retreats, and lunges
• For epee, where the whole body is target, you are more likely to get some bruises. (It all depends on the other people you fence with; beginners might be a little wild.)
• I can't speak for foil, but I've never been hurt by a saber
Have fun! Fencing is great exercise and a mental challenge, and I hope you and your friend decide to give it a try!
Compared to many other sports fencing is much safer.
There is an article on this by Peter Harmer.
Studies in Table 10.1 indicate consistent findings of a time-loss rate of 0.0 to 0.3 per 1,000 athlete exposures (AE) across a wide variety of competition and training settings. By comparison, soccer and basketball have been found to have ~50 times and 31 times higher rates of time loss from competition because of injury, respectively, than fencing.
As for the main types of injuries, studies differ a bit, but it seems that hands, knees, and ankles are relatively common compared with other sorts of injuries. See Harmer's article for details. (In my experience, hands are commonly scratched, blistered, or bruised, but injuries to the lower extremities, while rarer, can be more severe.)
My own impression is that many fencing injuries are caused by people competing at too high a level for their ability.