Brazilian jiu-jitsu is an outstanding hobby. Not only does it teach valuable self-defense skills, it’s also a phenomenal workout, and so fun to do that it will never feel like a chore. Unfortunately, as with all contact sports, BJJ also brings with it the risk of injury. The odds of getting hurt only increase the longer you participate and the older you get.
Preventing BJJ injuries involves a variety of factors, from the way you train to things you do when you aren’t training. By identifying the most common BJJ injuries, and following these tips for avoiding them, you best set yourself up to have a safe, injury free experience on the mats.
Understanding the Most Common BJJ Injuries
Although anything can happen in a contact sport, there are certain types of injuries associated with BJJ. These include joint injuries, muscle injuries and, to a lesser extent, head injuries. Each has their own causes, and ways to decrease their likelihood.
In a martial art where the point is to grab hold your opponent’s limbs and twist them into submission, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that joints often carry the brunt of the wear and tear. While elbow injuries and shoulder injuries caused by submissions are obvious, they are not the only concern to keep in mind. Injuries to knee ligaments are less common overall when you consider minor aches and pains from submissions left to go a bit too far, but they represent a large chunk of serious BJJ injuries.
Knee injuries need time to heal properly, so don't jump right back into rolling.
When exerting yourself physically, there is always a chance that you will push yourself too hard and injure your muscles. Small strains are common BJJ injuries, and usually come as a result of somebody trying to muscle a technique. The best way to combat muscle injuries is through stretching and good decisions when rolling.
Symptoms of concussion can include: headache, dizziness, nausea, disorientation/trouble focusing, different sized pupils, and ringing in the ears, but NOT necessarily unconsciousness. Although somewhat more rare in BJJ, it's a serious injury and you should know the signs.
Although there are no strikes in standard Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it’s not entirely without risk for your head. Techniques like break falls may seem basic but they’re also important for your health as throws and takedowns can lead to concussions if you aren’t careful.
However, if you’re seriously worried about head injuries from BJJ training, take heart! Brazilian jiu-jitsu tends to have a much lower concussion rate than other martial arts, and although you can find anecdotes of serious head injuries, these typically occur in high-level training or competition, not the average BJJ player’s day. One study conducted over the span of six years at BJJ tournaments in Hawaii reported no concussions at all.
Avoiding BJJ Injuries
While it’s important to know about common BJJ injuries, don’t think that every time you step on the mat you’re playing with fire, either. There are plenty of simple choices you can make both on and off the mat to make BJJ as safe as possible and keep the risk of injury to a minimum.
Roll Within Your Limits
The best way to ensure you pick up some bumps and bruises is to roll beyond your capacity – for example, when trying to muscle out of a submission, instead of applying sound defensive technique, you overexert yourself and risk strains. Refusing to tap because your ego won’t let you is another recipe for injury. Remember that every time you tap it’s just another chance to start a new roll, and you’ll greatly reduce your rate of injury.
Choose the Right Partners
Controlling yourself is important, but you don’t have control of how your partner rolls. What you can control is who you roll with. Avoid partners who are overly aggressive, particularly if you are already nursing an injury.
I personally know both these guys, and they're great at BJJ and at not hurting people. BUT, hypothetically, if you're the guy up in the air here, you REALLY want to make sure the guy on the bottom knows what he's doing and isn't just 'trying something he saw online.'
And as strange as it might sound, you may also want to avoid white belts in favor of rolling with more experienced partners. Sure, a black belt student might seem more intimidating, and yes, he or she probably knows a dozen or so ways to hurt you for every move you make. However, as a black belt, he or she also has years of practicing control. A new white belt, on the other hand, is more likely to panic and flail and injure you – or themselves – if they don’t know what they’re doing.
Pssst! Are you a BJJ newbie and worried you might be the “bad partner” in the equation? Read our 12 Tips for Being the Perfect Training Partner and fret no more!
Not everything you can do to reduce your exposure to common BJJ injuries happens while you’re rolling. Flexibility is essential for your long-term health. Not only does it add new weapons to your game, and make certain moves of opponent’s less effective, but flexible muscles are also less susceptible to strains and reduce strain on your ligaments. Stretch before and after classes and, if your instructor is okay with it, take advantage of time they are instructing to perform some non-distracting static stretches.
Build Your Strength
Just as flexible muscles can handle the rigors of training more effectively, so to do stronger muscles. The stronger you are, the less likely a move is going to overexert you. Although strength training is not essential, it does help to lower your risk of ligament and muscle injuries on the mats.
And Finally… Just Resign Yourself to Some Mat-Burn
Truly the most common BJJ injury is mat-burn, the friction-induced scuffs and scrapes we’re all familiar with thanks to the universally terrible carpets we all played on in elementary school P.E. You will get mat burn on your face, feet, knees, elbows…probably everywhere. Fortunately, this injury is so minor that many people see it a nuisance more than anything else. Just make sure to clean any scrapes with soap and water!
Starting Brazilian jiu-jitsu training is one of the best self-improvement decisions you can make. Be sure whenever you train to consider these tips for reducing your exposure to the most common BJJ injuries. The safer you roll, the happier you’ll be.