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How to Deal with Finger Pain in BJJ: A Complete Guide

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If you enjoy grappling, then you’ve probably received a finger injury or two over the years.

Unfortunately, for those that love BJJ, the movements involved with this activity can take a toll on your joints over time, including your knees, elbows, and fingers.

However, the primary joint pain issue that most grapplers struggle with in BJJ is finger pain. 

How can you deal with finger pain in BJJ? An individual can deal with finger pain in BJJ by using ice and rest, by taping your fingers before you grapple, and by training No-Gi. You can also deal with finger pain by using stretches and exercises, by dropping the death grip and understanding when to release a hold. A warm bath treatment also helps. 

To help you understand how to deal with finger pain in BJJ, we’ll cover how grappling can affect your fingers, and how you can avoid finger injuries.

We will discuss how to both prevent and recover from injuries, and we will also cover how to handle BJJ finger arthritis. While BJJ is an excellent hobby to partake in and it can keep you in great shape, you’ll still need to use some safety measure to ensure that your fingers remain in great shape. 

BJJ and Finger Pain

BJJ has long been known as an activity that’s fun for any grappler, but it can also create a lot of painful finger injuries.

If you aren’t careful about that, you can wind up with BJJ finger arthritis, which is incredibly painful and difficult to handle.

Not all grapplers feel or experience arthritis in the same ways since everybody’s bodies are different. You’ll need to understand how to protect your fingers to avoid this problem in the future. 

Finger Anatomy

Each joint found in your body features ligaments and capsules that help sustain and make that joint work.

Inside your joints, you’ll find the synovial membrane, which helps to lubricate your joints, so they are comfortable when they move.

Synovial fluid helps to keep your fingers moving smoothly and also keeps them pain-free within the joints. 

People that perform Jiu-Jitsu regularly do tend to create small injuries in their finger joints. As you injure your fingers, the synovial fluid in your joints decreases.

So, the more often you experience finger injuries, the more likely you’ll be to experience BJJ finger arthritis because of the lack of synovial fluid in your fingers. 

Once you start performing Jiu-Jitsu, you will see that your knuckles become more prominent. That’s because your fingers will be undergoing a healing process as they strengthen. 

Broken and Dislocated Fingers

The strength necessary to break just one finger is massive, although not impossible.

While it’s difficult to break a finger when practicing Jiu-Jitsu, it’s not unheard of because of the typical hand positionings that are used.

Fingers can also get tangled up in fabric during some of the moves. However, it still requires a substantial amount of force to break a finger bone. 

Your finger bones are so tiny because your fingers are capable of moving in many different directions. If your finger gets forced to move in the opposite direction from how it usually moves, then you experience pain and an injury.

Fingers can get twisted and turned when you roll and even practice drills because you can move them accidentally in the wrong direction. As mentioned, it’s also easy to get your fingers tangled in the fabric of your training partner’s outfit. 

You can also accidentally dislocate your fingers while performing Jiu-Jitsu. Finger dislocation has three levels of seriousness.

They include:

  • Minor distention
  • Complete dislocations 
  • Ruptured ligament

 Minor finger distension can be treated easily at home with a splint and some over-the-counter pain medication.

However, a complete fracture is much more severe and could require surgery. 

Taking Care of Your Fingers

If you wind up with a minor finger injury, like a jammed finger, then you won’t need a lot of significant treatment.

In the case of this type of injury, you just need to ice your finger and rest it and consider some NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug)  to help with swelling and pain. NSAIDs contain anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce pain and swelling from BJJ finger injuries. 

You should also consider taping your injured finger when you are going back to train. Here one of our articles on Why BJJ Practitioners Tape Their Fingers? , it has some great info on how to tape your fingers.

While most Jiu-Jitsu practitioners don’t enjoy taking time off of work, not giving your hands a break can make them look terrible over time.

You may need to go against what many Jiu-Jitsu practitioners do and rest your fingers when you do have an injury.

If you don’t take time out to rest them when your finger is already injured, then your fingers will keep getting turned around and twisted in every direction, making it easy for you to reinjure your joints. 

If you wind up with a more severe finger injury, like totally bending your finger backward, then you will probably need to have surgery. If your finger has turned that way, then you probably have ruptured your tendons and ligaments.

In that case, you need to have your fingers repaired as soon as you can because if you don’t, you can wind up with shrinking ligaments, and your fingers may wind up looking very abnormal. 

Not only will your fingers wind up looking abnormal, they may also function abnormally if you aren’t careful. Even if you are proud of having “grappler” fingers, the last thing you want to experience is BJJ finger arthritis. So, to avoid any long-term prominent pain issues with your fingers, it’s best to do what you can to take care of them.

Long Term Effects of BJJ on Fingers

If you practice BJJ over many years, then your hands will wind up looking different than other people’s.

However, although you won’t have perfect looking hands, you can still prevent unwanted pain and finger injuries by taking better care of your fingers.

Chances are that your hands will be healthier and more durable than the average person’s as long as you:

  • Train them
  • Stretch
  • Exercise them  

You don’t want your fingers to get injured so often that you wind up with permanent damage. At that point, you might not be able to even hold a glass of water.

Not paying attention to finger injuries in Jiu-Jitsu can lead to BJJ arthritis in your fingers later in life. This is a condition that is very painful to live with.

Whenever you suspect that your fingers are injured, you should take time out to let your joints heal. You have plenty of time to train and enjoy Jiu-Jitsu, so taking a short break when your fingers are injured really won’t do any long-term training damage.

However, training when your fingers are injured will cause long-term damage to your fingers. 

When you start experiencing finger pain from BJJ, what can you do? There are plenty of helpful treatments you can use when your fingers start hurting, which we will discuss in more detail below. 

Treatment for BJJ Finger Pain

So, what are the primary treatments for BJJ finger pain? We list the most popular treatments for BJJ finger pain below. 

  1. Ice and Rest
  2. Tape your Fingers
  3. No-GI
  4. Stretching and Exercising
  5. Watch the Death Grip
  6. Learn to Release
  7. Warm Bath Treatment

Treatment #1: Ice and Rest

One way you can successfully treat BJJ finger pain is by using ice and rest, although this treatment is typically ignored in Jiu-Jitsu.

However, that doesn’t mean you should use this strategy when your fingers are genuinely injured. BJJ grapplers don’t usually enjoy taking rest time when they get damaged.

However, if you want to keep your fingers healthy for the rest of your life, then rest is critical when you are recovering from an injury.

We understand that it can be frustrating to stay away from the mat while you are recovering.

It is crucial to take a break if you want your fingers to heal correctly and ensure that you’ll avoid creating BJJ arthritis in your fingers. 

Treatment #2: Tape Your Fingers

You can also consider taping your fingers, which is a strategy used by many grapplers after they’ve hurt their fingers.

If you’ve never taped your fingers before, then you’ll probably experience some finger soreness the first time you use this trick. However, you’ll notice a huge difference after your fingers adapt to the tape, and you’ll find that using tape will help you avoid injuries. 

Here’s an experiment to see just how much taping your fingers can help. Try taping only one of your hands, like your right hand, and leave your left hand alone.

When you are done with your training session, see which hand hurts you more. Chances are, your untapped hand will feel much worse than your taped hand. 

There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to learning how to tape up your fingers correctly. If you don’t tape them correctly, it can result in additional soreness and injuries.

Also, you don’t need to tape up your fingers for every Jiu-Jitsu session unless you want to. It’s best to tape your fingers when they are sore or injured. 

Treatment #3: No-Gi

Using a no-gi training program is one way to cut back on hand injuries.

Consider training with no-gi so that you form some non-grip dependent moves that will help you out on the mat. If you master over hooks and under hooks using no-gi, you’ll become a driving force in Jiu-Jitsu.

No-gi moves are easier on the fingers and hands, but they also challenge you to become better at your technique and speed moves.

Treatment #4: Stretching and Exercising

Each tie you work out, it’s essential to make sure that you stretch. When it comes to Jiu-Jitsu, you’ll also need to understand how to stretch and exercise your fingers to take care of them.

By stretching out your fingers, you’ll make them more mobile and flexible. It’s also important to use your fingers so that your joints can become more robust. By making sure you both stretch and exercise daily, you’ll recover much more quickly and experience fewer injuries over time. 

Utilize some grip strengtheners and resistance stress balls when you exercise your fingers. Using finger stretch resistance bands to build up your fingers’ muscles is also an excellent idea. Finger stretch resistance bands help to decrease your risk of arthritis and carpal tunnel. Many rock climbers use these types of devices to make their fingers stronger. 

You’ll also need to develop a finger stretching regime to make your finger joints more flexible. If you don’t know much about finger stretches, check out this video. 

Treatment #5: Watch the Death Grip

A lot of finger injuries that happen in BJJ comes from keeping a death grip on your opponent’s clothes. If you use a lot of gi movements, then you will likely eventually experience a lot of finger pain over time. Instead of using moves like the spider guard, try to use the:

  • Butterfly guard
  •  X guard
  • Half guard

These will aid in saving your fingers. 

It’s a good idea also to try to do less pulling with your fingers and use more pushing when you make your moves. That way, you are still focusing on saving your fingers. However, this sounds easier to do than it is.

Once you feel you’re in a tight spot, you’ll probably be using a firm death grip on your opponent again. However, learning to play around with this technique can save your fingers. 

Treatment #6: Learn to Release

A lot of finger injuries occur when your opponent tries to get you to release your grip. Knowing when to release and when to keep your hold is something that takes time to learn.

However, if you don’t learn how to grip and release correctly, you will wind up doing some long-term damage to your fingers. If your opponent breaks your grip, it’s better to release your grip and try again to avoid finger pain. 

If your opponent winds up using his or her legs to break your grip, then you really will need to release your hold. If you don’t, you will start wearing down your fingers over time. You can’t win with your fingers battling against somebody’s legs, so it’s better just to let go and avoid damaging your fingers. 

Treatment #7: Warm Bath Treatment

Warm water does wonder for hurting joints. You can use warm water to help decrease pain and stress on your BJJ fingers. One of the best ways to treat pain in your fingers from BJJ is by soaking your stiff joints in warm water. This treatment works wonders for arthritis, but it also helps to relieve pain. Warm water helps:

  • Relax your fingers 
  • Boosts blood flow
  • Makes your fingers feel less stiff

There are bath soak products that work great for achy joints. Epsom salt is one that works well. Using these therapeutic products is a great way to decrease finger pain and stiffness, especially if you do suffer from BJJ arthritis. If you prefer, you can also simply run some hot water over your hands using your sink if you don’t want to use a tub. Just make sure you check the water’s temperature before you put your hands in anything.

To keep your hand bath water at an appropriate temperature, it should be between 92 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Any hotter means you’ll run the risk of burning your hands and fingers, something you want to avoid, so you are back on your BJJ mat faster. 

Avoiding BJJ Finger Injuries

So, can you do anything to prevent finger and hand injuries when doing your BJJ training? We already discussed how finger tape could help you prevent injuries, but that will only get you to a certain point. While it will help, if you are already using finger tape regularly, you’ll need to do more if you want to prevent your fingers from pain and injury.  

Much of avoiding BJJ finger injuries starts with the right approach to your training. You can’t escape using grips in BJJ, so you are likely to strain your fingers at some point. If you want to avoid the pain of finger injuries, you can use some of the below techniques to prevent them. 

  1. Do a Warm-Up
  2. Do a Cool Down
  3. Condition Your Fingers
  4. Allow for Recovery

Step #1: Do a Warm-Up

While many people can’t stand warming up, you must get used to doing so to help keep your fingers strong and healthy.

The standard Jiu-Jitsu warm-ups resemble most general warm-ups and could get you ready for just about anything. However, when you use those same body parts that you are warming up in Jiu-Jitsu, you aren’t using them with the same intensity. 

So, you’ll need to start with a warm-up that focuses on your hands and fingers.

You’ll need to make sure you warm up all of the joints of your hands and pay close and careful attention to your fingers as you do this. By slowly warming up your fingers, you’ll extend your range of motion, and keep your hands very active before you need to swap your grip. 

It shouldn’t take you longer than five or six minutes to warm up your fingers. While finger warm-ups aren’t traditionally mandatory in Jiu-Jitsu classes, they should be.

So, if your class isn’t performing any necessary finger warm-ups, make sure you still do before you hit the mat. You’ll not only save yourself from experiencing painful finger injuries, but you’ll also improve the range of motion you’ll have with both your hands and fingers. 

Step #2: Do a Cool Down

Much like a warm-up, a cool-down process is also necessary when keeping your hands and fingers healthy. When you cool down, you’ll want to make sure your muscles, ligaments, and tendons that you used frequently get rest and cool-down period.

Since the tendons and muscles in your fingers and hands are small, they can wear out quickly. While you should be stretching things like your arms and legs, many cool-downs in Jiu-Jitsu miss the fingers and the hands. 

To decrease your finger problems, make sure you:

  • Stretch your fingers,
  • Massage them
  • Do some mobility exercises

This will cool down those muscles and joints. By making sure your hands and fingers are cooled down properly, you’ll likely experience far less finger and hand pain. By taking proper care of your fingers using an appropriate warm-up and cool-down technique, you can save yourself from experiencing a lot of pain. 

Step #3: Condition Your Fingers

If you’re willing to do some time strengthening and conditioning your hands and fingers, then you will prevent a lot of pain and injury.

You’ll also wind up developing some powerful, flexible hands, and that can help you perform better when you do your BJJ training. Strength and conditioning training for your hands and fingers is an essential part of the preparation for Jiu-Jitsu. Unfortunately, most grapplers ignore it. Instead, they focus on hips and their necks.

While your hips and neck are essential when grappling, you don’t ever want to overlook the importance of your grips, which is where your fingers and hands come into play.

Using things like fat bar exercises and Gi pull-ups aren’t enough to condition your hands and fingers. However, by doing these exercises, you are still exhausting your hand and finger joints, and that’s something you want to avoid before you build them up. 

To start conditioning your hands and fingers correctly, focus on the muscles that move your fingers.

You’ll find those muscles in your forearms. So, doing traditional pull-ups and deadlifts is a great way to strengthen those muscles. You can also use farmer walks to get your hands into shape. Grip very hard while you perform your exercises to train your fingers. 

After you are more durable with your grip, you can then focus on making your grip even stronger. At this point, it’s a good idea to utilize fat grips or the Gi while you exercise. Learn to hold on isometrically without moving your body.

As you start strengthening your grip, you’ll notice an improved ability to grip when you hit the mat for Jiu-Jitsu. Not only will you prevent finger injuries by doing this, but you’ll also become better at grappling. 

Step #4: Allow for Recovery

Another thing you can do to keep your fingers away from injury is to allow for some recovery time. We don’t mean using a cool down after your training. We do expect actual recovery.

When you allow your hands to recover, you need to give them a break and take care of them. You can use some ointments to help your muscles recover faster. Warm padding can also help when your hands feel overly sore. 

Don’t forget to get an occasional hand massage from a massage therapist.  Ask a friend or loved one to help you out with your battered hands. Getting a massage from time to time, even if it’s not a professional one, can help your fingers to recover. 

Keeping Your Hands and Fingers Safe

Using the preventative measures above can help your hands and fingers remain pain-free. However, if you aren’t keeping your hands safe while you are training, then nothing we’ve mentioned above will assist you with pain. So, don’t be too stubborn with your grips when you are practicing. Make sure you know your limits and stay honest with yourself. It’s better to let go before you reach your limit and do some real damage to your hands. 

For instance, if you’re using a rear-naked joke, holding that pose when it’s unnecessary is going to tire out your arms. Then after you let go, your arms are going to feel tired for the rest of the time. Your hands work similarly. If you are holding onto your grips too tightly and too often, then it’s going to take its toll over time. 

Smart grapplers switch to different grips and change tactics when they feel pain in their fingers and hands. That way, they can adjust to avoid doing any real damage. It’s better to keep your hands safe and prevent an injury than it is to become over-obsessive about your grips. 

Remember, BJJ finger arthritis is a real condition, and it causes a lot of pain and suffering. People that have this condition have difficulty holding things. With some preventative measures, you can keep your fingers healthy and avoid any long-term damage to your fingers. That way, you can continue to enjoy your BJJ training in a healthy, safe way. 

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By Let's Roll BJJ

Let's Roll BJJ aims to be the leading source of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Grappling information and news on the web. Dorian, the owner and editor of Let's Roll BJJ is a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu and has been training and competing for over 6 years.

Apart from being a BJJ geek, Dorian is a software developer by trade, a husband, and a father of two wonderful kids who he's recently began teaching Jiu Jitsu. When he's not training, coding, or writing, you can find him hiking, camping or occasionally binging on video games.

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