Anyone who trains BJJ knows that you are going to get banged up. We’ve all been there: feeling better than you have before and then bang, another injury or flare up of pain. There are certainly things we can do to decrease the risk of injury, but in a contact sport like Jiu Jitsu, injuries are going to happen. I’ve had my fair share of injuries so far in my Jiu Jitsu career, and as a physical therapist it certainly helps to know how to self-treat. The purpose of this blog will be to explain the most common injuries I see with my patients who train BJJ and what you can do to decrease risk.
A recent study found from surveying over 166 BJJ gyms in the U.S that most common injuries occur at the hand and fingers, followed by the foot and toes, followed by the arm and elbow (see cited reference below). Anyone who trains BJJ knows that fingers and toes can easily get banged up. More severe injuries can certainly occur due to being caught in the Gi or joints can get irritated from the repetitive gripping required from training. Not mentioned in this article is the neck or cervical spine. I commonly find lower neck/upper back pain is very common with my training partners and patients. Getting caught in a neck crank or choke can contribute, but it is also due to the posture required during training.
The fighting stance requires your shoulders and your upper back to be rounded as you want to decrease the ability of your opponent to grip your Gi when in standing. This can lead to a stiff lower neck and upper back which can result in pain. One simple exercise to improve this is called Cervical Retraction. This not only helps improve mobility but can provide strengthening as well. The general movement is simple but you can make this exercise more difficult with some progressions in order to build a strong/stable neck. Foam rolling the upper back is beneficial in addition to doing Thoracic stretches to keep your spine mobile.
In regard to common finger/toe pain and injuries, I have found taping to be quite effective. The key is to provide enough compression to support the joint but still allow finger flexibility for gripping the Gi. You can either tape around the joint or above/below the joint. Compression of any type can be very effective in decreasing pain/inflammation and will provide increased support of the joint. Try taping your fingers and perform these neck/back exercises in the videos to improve your mobility and decrease risk of injury.
(finger on the right shows tape around the joints, middle finger is taped above/below to allow more flexibility for gripping)
1) Alex R. McDonald, Fred A. Murdock, Jr., Josh A. McDonald and Christopher J. Wolf “Prevalence of Injuries during Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Training” Sports (Basel) 2017 Jun; 5(2): 39. Published online 2017 Jun 12