You’re going hard in sparring, working with someone bigger than you to get ready for an upcoming fight. Or maybe you’re having the fight, with small gloves being swung hard back and forth. Suddenly your guard drops lower than it should as you throw a punch and you catch a counter hook right on the edge of your eye socket. There’s a lot of pain and some quick swelling, you might get double vision or your eye might bulge right out. Welcome to your new orbital fracture.
What is an orbital fracture?
Your orbital is the medical term for the collection of several bones that make up your eye sockets. An orbital fracture is, as you’ve probably worked out, a fracture of one of these bones. There can be several causes and the way you’re injured can increase the likelihood of what gets fractured. We’ll focus on a ‘blowout’ fracture, which commonly happens when you’re hit by something larger than the eye socket – like a fist inside a boxing or MMA glove.
What causes the injury?
Trauma essentially. A blow to the eye socket transfers energy which dissipates through the bones and increases the pressure inside the eye socket. This rapid increase in pressure leads to one of the thinner bones fracturing outwards – typically medial wall (near the nose), or the floor of the socket, as these are the thinnest areas.
Can I train through it or do I need to rest?
While it’s not all that uncommon to see fighters push through a fracture like this in pursuit of getting their hands raised this should definitely put a stop to your training – you’ll probably be in too much pain to continue, but regardless the risk of doing further serious damage means this one puts an end to your session.
Do I need to see my doctor?
Definitely, to get it properly treated you should be heading to the hospital to get checked over. You’ll probably need x-rays or a CT scan to see the damage and they’ll want to check the pressure within your actual eyeball – there’s a risk of going blind if this pressure has increased for an extended period. If there’s an issue affecting the movement of your eye they might get an eye specialist (an ophthalmologist) and if there’s damage to the ‘ceiling’ of the eye socket you might need to see a neurosurgeon.
What treatments are there?
There’s potential to be able to recover without surgery, depending on positions of the bone and other factors your doctor can determine. If this is the case the main risk factor is infection and you’ll have to avoid blowing your nose – the doctor will likely give you nasal sprays to stop you needing to.
However you might need surgery if symptoms like double vision don’t improve or your fracture involves a big area. Typically surgery would happen a while after the injury in order to let swelling go down.
You’ll be looking at a timeline of several weeks before you can get back to strenuous activity, and probably a chunk longer before you can return to contact sports – all of this would be guided by your doctor.
How do I prevent the injury reoccurring?
There’s an element of orbital fractures being an occupational hazard in combat sports. In the same way you might get bruises and other injuries you might just get unlucky – at the end of the day we aren’t playing tiddlywinks. The best thing to do is keep your guard tight and work on your defence – not getting hit is the easiest way to avoid an orbital fracture.
Please note: The team at Fight Quality have researched the causes and treatments of this injury, but the advice is not given by a qualified healthcare professional. If you are ever in doubt about the seriousness of an injury you should consult with a doctor or physiotherapist as they can do a full assessment of you as an individual and refer you for further diagnostics if needed.