Winter sports season is upon us which means that sports like basketball and wrestling are getting into full swing this month. Like other sports, wrestlers suffer injuries like sprains, strains, and fractures. But unlike other sports, wrestlers suffer from a variety of skin infections that can lead to lost time from both practice and matches and can affect their ability to participate at their fullest potential.
Why do wrestlers have so many issues with their skin? The uniform provides minimal coverage and it is a tactile sport requiring lots of skin to skin contact between participants. They also have a lot of skin-to-skin contact with wrestling mats that may or may not be as clean as we would like. This combination of exposure and equipment can lead to many different types of rashes that can be itchy, painful, and lead to disqualification if not treated.
The most common types of skin infections include:
- Herpes Gladiatorum: This is a version of the herpes virus similar to what causes cold sores. Unlike cold sores, these can occur on the head, neck, ears, chest, and arms where the most contact with the opponent’s skin occurs. They look like a fluid-filled sac on a red spot of skin (but when burst they look crusty). The first time a wrestler gets it, it will be quite painful and they may also have fevers and body aches like the flu. If diagnosed, the doctor will prescribe medicine to help improve the symptoms.
- Dermatophyte infections (Ring worm): Ringworm accounts for about 1/3 of all skin infections that occur in wrestlers. They look like scaly circular plaques with a clear center that can be itchy. When occurring on the body, the wrestler will need a topical cream. Ringworm on the head can be a bit trickier and requires a medicine by mouth.
- Bacterial infections: Bacterial infections of the skin in wrestlers can be the most serious. If the go on for too long, they can lead to whole body infections, which could be life-threatening. The infection starts as a small red area that can become widespread and get into the deeper skin. One type of bacterial infection is MRSA (methicillin resistant Staph aureus) which was talked about in the news a few years ago. These are sometimes hard to fix with antibiotics and require drainage if the infection gets deeper.
If you are concerned that your child may be developing one of these infections, check with your athletic trainer or doctor. The earlier it’s caught, the more quickly and more successfully it can be treated.
The most important thing to take away about wrestling skin infections is that it is preventable! Here are some things that your wrestler or child’s wrestling team can do to prevent these from happening:
- Mats should be sanitized before and after each use
- Wrestlers should shower thoroughly after every practice or meet
- No sharing things like towels or razors
- Wrestling rooms and locker rooms should have good ventilation—bacteria and viruses love hot moist environments!
- Skin checks before every practice and match—any signs of skin infection should be taken out until evaluated and treated by a doctor.
Click here for more information about skin infections or other skin conditions.