Fencing is considered to be one of the oldest combat sports in existence, likely as an extension of dueling. There are 3 disciplines- Foil and Epee, both of which are thrusting weapons; and Sabre, which is a cutting weapon.
It is contested at the Olympic Games, whereby fencers compete either individually or in team events. In the British Isles, British Fencing is the National Governing Body (NGB) for the sport.
Additionally, fencing also makes up one of the 5 events in Modern Pentathlon, another Olympic sport. It features regularly at the Paralympic Games too in the sport of Wheelchair Fencing and was first introduced at the 1960 Rome Paralympic Games.
In 2014, British Fencing produced its 1st ever European Championships fencing title when James Davis won a gold medal and secured the Men’s Foil crown. More recently in 2015 at the inaugural European Games in Baku, the Men’s Foil team also won gold in a hard-fought contest against Olympic champions Italy.
Many of the injuries in fencing arise from overuse, technical issues or minor trauma. Major trauma arising from stab injuries is exceedingly rare as a result of modern fencing equipment (that has many built-in safety features) and also strict rule enforcement.
As with many contact sports, minor abrasions and cuts are relatively commonplace. Musculoskeletal strains and sprains affecting the spine, upper limbs (wrists and elbows mostly) and lower limbs (hips, knees and ankles) can arise from a combination of hard surfaces (e.g. the fencing pistes) and practicing too much. Not allowing for adequate periods of rest may play a significant role too.
‘Fencer’s elbow’ (analogous to ‘tennis elbow’ with pain noted at the lateral aspect of the elbow from gripping a weapon too tightly and repetitive arm motion) has been reported but is not commonly seen in the elite fencing athlete population. Once again, similar to the elite tennis athlete population, it is likely that many of the precipitants for this, which may arise from poor technique, are corrected as fencers progress and become more experienced.
Proximal patellar tendinopathy, manifesting itself as anterior knee pain, can also occur in fencers who may have poor biomechanics when repeatedly in the ‘en garde’ position. Similarly, some fencers also develop patellofemoral pain syndrome, likely due to a combination of chronic reduced flexibility, excessive loading of the patellofemoral joint and less than optimal technique.
Lateral ankle ligament injuries can arise from accidental slips or inappropriate footwear. Depending upon the severity of the ankle sprain, there can be concurrent bone bruising/ osteochondral/ syndesmosis/ deltoid ligament injuries.
Photo courtesy of Maxine McCombie, British Fencing