BJJ Injuries – What to Do and How to Avoid Them (Where Possible)

Us grapplers are incredibly stubborn when it comes to injuries, not much can keep us off the mats! Only AFTER the injury has occurred, will we realise what we could have done to avoid getting hurt. Being conscious of our own safety, and the safety of our rolling partners is very important in avoiding injury in BJJ.

We all know that if we continue training when injured, the likelihood is that the injury will probably just get worse. This article will discuss what the most common injuries in BJJ are, why they happen, what you can (potentially) do to prevent them, and how to treat them/ know when to seek medical advice.

When injured, if you decide you’re well enough to get back on to the mats, you must ALWAYS make your rolling partners aware of your injury to avoid causing any further harm.

What are the Most Common Injuries in BJJ?

A study was created by NCBI with a focus group of BJJ grapplers, using their demographic information, belt level, weight class, training hours, and competition experience. Overall, the most common injuries were located to the hand and fingers, foot and toes, and arm and elbow. And the most common medically diagnosed conditions were skin infections, injuries to the knee, foot and toes.

Why Are They the Most Common Injuries?

You use your entire body when practicing BJJ, so the potential risk for injury is a lot higher in comparison to other sports. The hands and fingers have almost constant contact time with the opponent, and are used to grip the opponent’s clothing and body to maintain control – increasing the potential for injury. Sticking your neck out in awkward positions and having your neck cranked is not unfamiliar in BJJ either, also causing potential for injury.

Like your other body parts, shoulders are being bent the wrong way too, and having pressure added also, can cause strains and dislocations.

No shoes on the mat! Grapplers are (mostly) barefoot when they train, so feet and toes may be at an increased risk of injury because they’re exposed. Similar to fingers, toes too can get caught on the opponents clothes.

Over time, a lot of pressure is put on your knees, so knee injuries tend to be a common thing for more experienced grapplers. Your back can get strained in BJJ, just like any other part of your body. Muscle injuries/strains usually occur through pulling or lifting in uncomfortable positions.

Skin infections are common because they can be incredibly contagious, and some people may not realise they have one, resulting in it ultimately spreading to everyone in the gym. Ringworm is a common one in BJJ, the picture below is what it looks like – so you know what to look out for.

How to Avoid Them (If Possible)

Most common injuries can be avoided by simply using proper technique, and tapping before it’s too late. Also, most injuries can be prevented by increased flexibility, so working on your flexibility might be a useful tip for some. Injuries in BJJ can often be self-inflicted from things like basing out when you shouldn’t, not tapping on time, and basically not knowing what NOT to do.

You can’t really avoid the spread of skin infections, but you can shower. Keeping clean is probably the best way to avoid any type of skin infection, and you should always shower after training anyway. The risk of skin infections can be reduced if awareness is increased, people get the right treatment and STAY OFF THE MATS!!

One way to avoid ‘cauliflower ears’ is to either wear some incredibly fashionable headgear, or just by being mindful of not constantly smashing your head on your opponent, or on the mats whilst you grapple. Also, when feeling direct pain on the ear after rolling, immediately apply ice, and (I know you don’t want to hear it) try not to roll for the next few days.

What To Do If You Get Injured

Muscle injuries/ strains can usually be treated by icing, stretching and plenty of rest. For most issues with fingers and toes you can just tape it to the next finger/toe, but any concerns – obviously visit a doctor.

BJJEE has written a great article on how to roll with BJJ injuries. They state that, “Coming back early from a knee injury, you can bind your knees together with your belt, and focus on just hand defense. You’re not passing any guards, or mounting, but your defense becomes very strong.”

Unless it’s serious, in most cases a few days/ or a week later you should be able to jump back on the mats after your injury, but just ‘take it easy’. If you’re concerned about anything, ALWAYS seek medical advice.

For things like ‘cauliflower ears’, the recommended treatment is to drain the fluid with a syringe, then ice the area (for short periods of time only), and take-anti inflammatory medication.

When to Seek Medical Advice

Any itchiness of the skin, new marks that have shown up, or anything alien on your skin that you haven’t noticed before – always go to get it checked out – even just for peace of mind.

For your back, if you think you’ve got a disk injury such as a herniated disc, you should definitely seek immediate medical advice and lay off the mats to prevent it getting any worse. Also for the knees, you need to look after them bad boys if you want to continue training BJJ. Some knee injuries can be really serious and need to be operated on. If you’ve spoken to any experienced grapplers, they have most probably had an issue with their knees at one point and the time you’re out can be very long.

So if there’s a lot of discomfort/ pain, make sure to get it checked out so you can carry on rolling! Likewise, any dislocations you should seek advice from a doctor before you decide to head back onto the mats.

Look after yourself and keep rolling!

Lucy Wynne

BJJ Purple Belt living in, London, England. I began training BJJ back in 2017, when I was at university, and have trained ever since. #OSS Instagram: @journowynne

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