The Importance of Maintaining Good Hygiene

By Matt Krumrie | Nov. 09, 2017, 8:32 a.m. (ET)

The Importance of Maintaining Good Hygiene

Coaches, wrestlers and parents go the extra mile to help wrestlers succeed. They spend countless hours on technique, drilling, working out, going to camps, and participating in school and club programs, all so their wrestler can get the most out of the sport.

That dedication and attention to detail also needs to be implemented to another important aspect of wrestling: maintaining good hygiene.

Because if good hygiene is not the focal point of every coach, wrestler and parent, all of that time, effort (and money), is for naught when a wrestler can't get on the mat because of a skin infection.

“Maintaining good hygiene is just as important as learning technique,” says Steve Glassey, CEO of Battle Skin LLC, a website that provides education on skin infections, and home of BattleSkin antiseptic aerosol and body wipes for treatment and prevention of skin infections. "Common practices are being taken lightly."

Dr. B.J. Anderson, a medical advisor for Minnesota USA Wrestling and tournament physician for the USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota, pointed to one study that showed only 10 percent of high school athletes shower after practice, and 0 percent of junior high athletes shower after practice. In wrestling, showering immediately after practice is a must.

“This is a huge problem,” said Anderson, who founded TheMatDoc, an online source for finding the latest and most up-to-date information on sports-related skin and health issues. “Bacteria is spread by skin-to-skin contact and can colonize equipment. Cleaning the skin immediately after practice and equipment weekly helps clear up these infections quickly.”

Avoiding Infections

Implementing daily hygiene best practices will lessen the ability to contract various skin infections, says Glassey. Fungal, bacterial, and viral infections are prevalent in wrestling. Each one of the types of infections has various serious effects to the athlete and the training partners that workout with the individual.

MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is the most serious infection that can hospitalize and even cause death. Other bacterial infections such as impetigo, streptococcus, staphylococcus aureus, folliculitis, cellulitis are very contagious and can be transmitted by skin to skin contact. Herpes Gladiatorum (HSV-1) is the most common viral infection in wrestling and is very contagious. Lastly, fungal infections, such as ringworm (dermatophytosis or tinea), are common and very contagious.

“The impact of not being educated regarding hygiene is that others will contract the skin infection and the entire program, other programs, and an entire area of the state could eventually contract the outbreak,” Glassey said. “This has happened in several states with Herpes Galdiatorum, impetigo, and staphylococcus aureus outbreaks, and has been an epidemic. Many times, a wrestler’s career has ended because of skin infections, because of skin checks, and not being able to compete in the post season.”

Basic Hygiene Tips

Mark Reiland, state chairman for Iowa USA Wrestling and a longtime high school wrestling coach, delivers the same messages to wrestlers every year:

  • Make sure you wear clean clothes to every practice.
  • Make sure you are showering with soap after every practice.
  • Make sure mats are cleaned every day before getting on the mat.

It seems simple, but one wrestler, or coach, who doesn’t take this seriously can have a trickle-down effect.

“The problem with skin issues is you lose practice time, and most often it starts to spread throughout the team so it isn't just one person missing, it usually becomes multiple people,” says Reiland.

In addition, Glassey says coaches and wrestlers should be sure to:

  • Wash hands before practice.
  • Avoid walking on areas other than the mat with your wrestling shoes.
  • Wipe feet before stepping on the mat to train.
  • Use an antiseptic before working out and shower immediately after.
  • Conduct daily skin checks—coaches and wrestlers need to monitor each other.
  • Use soap and water if an antiseptic product is not available.

“Communicable diseases are a major concern in the sport of wrestling and any infectious disease outbreak has the potential to end a team’s season, or even suspend the sport across an entire state,” said Elliot Hopkins, editor of the NFHS High School Wrestling Rules Book. “It is imperative that all school officials, coaches and wrestlers continually use best practices to control the spread of communicable diseases.”

Travis Rutt, strength and conditioning coach at the University of Iowa, knows what that is like to be affected by skin diseases. As a high school wrestler in Minnesota, Rutt, and thousands of other wrestlers, were shut down during the wrestling season because of a statewide spread of skin infections. Rutt wasn't infected himself, but his ability to wrestle was affected.

“It’s serious because skin diseases can spread and cause major problems,” Rutt said. “While time off the mat can be good, this is not a good reason that will take your time away from accomplishing your goals. Things happen that are out of your control, but this is something that is completely controllable. It seems foolish to let something that can be avoided take you off the mat.”

Rutt emphasizes the same points over and over, and recommends coaches, wrestlers, and parents band together to do the same.

“Wrestlers need to shower immediately after every workout,” Rutt said. “Do not wait until you get home. Use clean clothes every workout. Do not use the same clothes for multiple workouts—hang up to dry and wear again.”

The wrestling season is a grind—when one is tired, worn down, battling nagging injuries, and/or busy with school and everyday life is when people let their guard down, creating a greater risk of spreading skin diseases.

“Take care of yourself,” Rutt said. “If you have medication, take it as directed. You will break out with skin diseases when your body is run down. Good, healthy eating and sleeping habits go a long ways.”

Coaches’ Responsibility

The coach must be educated about the protocols of good hygiene and educate athletes and parents, Glassey said. In many cases, an athlete is clean in the wrestling room, but when they compete on a weekend event during a Friday/Saturday competition a lesion will arise on Monday or Tuesday. The reason is that the athlete did not shower or his competition had a lesion and was not inspected during skin check. Monitor skin at practice, after competition, and at home.

Additional Tips for Maintaining Good Hygiene

From BJ Anderson, M.D., TheMatDoc

  1. All schools should supply clean towels and bottle soap dispensers. If not, then the athlete should bring his/her own. Every athlete should shower at the school immediately after practice/competition.
  2. Bring clean workout gear/towel for each practice.
  3. Skin checks should be performed by the coach/ATC at the beginning of each practice and every competition—and every day of competition.
  4. Athletes with any suspicious lesion should be held from practice/competition until a medical professional evaluates and treats the lesion, if necessary.
  5. There are many websites to help coaches, trainers, parents and athletes in recognition of these skin infections. Take advantage of them and become well educated on their appearance and risks.

Related Resources

USA Wrestling Guide to MRSA and other skin infection facts

Clean and Mean: Maintaining Good Hygiene On and Off the Mat