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Common Jiu Jitsu Injuries and How to Avoid Them

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The longer you train Jiu Jitsu, the more likely you’ll get injured, we don’t want to discourage anyone from picking up this new amazing hobby, but we do want to keep it real.

BJJ is a contact sport and a martial art. No matter how flowy or chill you roll, chances are you’ll eventually get hurt doing Jiu Jitsu. It happens to everyone one, at some point, you’ll twist something a certain way or hold out on tapping to a submission just a little too long.

It may not even be your fault when it happens. You might be rolling with someone who might stack you wrong or they might snap on a submission too fast.

Most people don’t set out to intentionally hurt their training partners. Even in tournaments, the majority of people competing in Jiu Jitsu have day jobs and don’t want to get hurt either. With that said, you might be wondering what common injuries to look out for and be aware of in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

What are the most common injuries in BJJ? The truth is there are many types of injuries that you can acquire while training Jiu Jitsu. Although it’s hard to predict when one might get injured, some common injuries include knee tears and sprains, shoulder and rotator cuff trauma, jammed and broken fingers, or toes. Other injuries to look out for are hyperextended elbows, bruised ribs, sprained or broken ankles, neck and back pain, and of course, cauliflower ear.

Knees

Knee injuries are prevalent in BJJ; they’re also very common in wrestling and judo as well. People often joke about how all grapplers have bad knees, and all good jokes contain some truth, don’t they. 

Many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners deal with knee injuries on a regular basis. If you’ve had a knee injury and you continue to train BJJ, you probably have a drawer full of different types of knee braces; I know I do.

From meniscus tears to MCL and ACL sprains, there are so many ways that you can hurt your knees doing Jiu Jitsu. Here’s a great medical paper that studied the common injuries in a series of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournaments.

The results of that study concluded that orthopaedic injuries accounted for 78.3% of the injuries that occurred during the study, 19.4% of those orthopaedic injuries were knee-related, and knee injuries were the second most injured area.

That was a lot of geeking out over Jiu Jitsu injuries. Just remember all injuries suck, but damage to your knees can have some long term effects. If you suspect that you may have hurt your knee, make sure to take the appropriate measures to heal up properly, knee injuries can linger for a lifetime.

Shoulders

If you’ve ever hurt your shoulder, you know just how much it sucks. Aside from the pain you’ll experience anytime you try to lift or use your arm, you’re likely to lose a lot of range of motion and mobility in the injured arm as it heals. Some shoulder injuries require you to move and rotate your arm in order to avoid getting a “Frozen Shoulder. ” 

Submissions that target the shoulder can be hard to judge when trying to fight out of, many times it can go from “I’m OK” to “POP” faster than you can say OSS. So be careful whenever you’re attacking or defending against Kimuras, Oma Platas, and Americanas last thing you want to do is dislocate someone’s shoulder or even worse have yours injured because you didn’t tap.                                                          

For more info on training with a bad shoulder, check out our article Can You Do Jiu Jitsu With A Bad Shoulder? Tips On How To Avoid Injury

Fingers

Fingers can easily get hurt when training BJJ. This is why it’s fairly common to see people who practice Jiu Jitsu often tape their fingers to help prevent or deal with finger injuries. 

In Jiu Jitsu your fingers are in danger of jams, fractures, sprains, and dislocations. Some of the common ways you can injure your fingers while training BJJ include:

  • Posting out wrong and landing on a finger or two
  • Holding grips too long
  • Grip fighting getting grips broken (tangled fingers + grip break = ouch)
  • Getting fingers caught in opponents gi (also applies to toes)
  • Spider guard can be painful and will leave your fingers sore.
  • The long term effects on fingers when training Jiu Jitsu for years would probably show that Jiu Jitsu can cause arthritis in your hands.

So if you plan on training BJJ, make sure to invest in some sports tape and learn to tape your fingers. 

Why Do BJJ Practitioners Tape Their Fingers?

Ankles

Watch out for sprains and breaks when it comes to your ankles in BJJ. Also, be careful in positions that place your ankles in awkward spots such as De La Riva guard or submissions like Toe Holds and Ankle Locks.

Many times injuries can be prevented by simply tapping early and tapping often, but you don’t always get hurt from not tapping. Sometimes you can damage your ankle just by stepping wrong and “Rolling” it.

When you’re new and don’t have any concept of wrestling and judo practice your footwork and get comfortable falling and learn to fall correctly before going hard on takedowns.

Learning to run ladder drills is a great way to better your footwork, doing these exercises, and will significantly improve your agility, which will help reduce your chances of hurting your ankles.

I good ankle brace can help you get back on the mat after an ankle injury this Mcdavid Ankle Support Brace for Ankle Sprains

Ribs

Rib injuries are known to be annoying due to the fact that there isn’t much that you can do about a popped or broken rib. Only with severe rib breaks would your doctor recommend surgery, you’re likely going to have to just deal with it until it heals. According to WebMD, broken ribs take about six weeks to heal.

If your ribs are broken, you notice it with every breath, cough, laugh and sneeze, pretty much anything you do will cause some discomfort when you have injured ribs.

When training Jiu Jitsu you can hurt your ribs a number of different ways from getting taken down too hard or a hard scramble that leads to you get slammed on your side, hell I’m sure a bad enough knee on belly could bruise your ribs.

Make sure to take some time off from BJJ to let your ribs; you want to avoid returning too early. No sense in healing for four weeks to come back and reinjure the same injury, we all do it, but ribs aren’t sometimes you can tape up.

If you get a rib a serious rib injury check out this BraceAbility Broken Rib Brace to help you deal with the discomfort of having a popped or broken rib.

Ears

Bodybuilders have big muscles; Jiu Jitsu players have big knots on their ears. Cauliflower ear is often looked at as a badge of honor; it’s known as a signal that someone is a high-level grappler. 

Cauliflower ear happens when trauma to the ear occurs, a hematoma forms between the skin and the cartilage of the ear. The blood has nowhere to go and will fill the damaged area of the ear. If left untreated, the blood eventually clots and solidifies into a hard lump, let that happen enough times, and you’ll have a good case of cauliflower ear.

You’re likely to develop cauliflower ear if you’re doing a lot of wrestling or if you rip your head out of a lot of triangles and guillotines. A good accidental elbow or knee to the ear while rolling is all you need to have your ear swell up.

If you hurt your ears when you’re doing Jiu Jitsu you have a few options to help minimize the damage to your ears. I’m not going to get into draining your ears, do that at your own risk.

If you’re experiencing pain and swelling in your ears and suspect that you might have a little cauliflower ear starting, you should consider doing the following:

  • Apply ice to help with swelling
  • Ibuprofen for pain
  • Magnets from Home Depot or a product like Ear Splintz to apply pressure and reduce the defiguration from cauliflower ear
  • Invest in headgear to prevent it from getting worse, wear it until pain subsides and ear hardens. Here’s our article Best BJJ HeadGear and Ear Guards of 2020

Only way to completely prevent cauliflower ear is to wear headgear all the time. Many people don’t want to use headgear when they roll, it’s hot and feels cumbersome. Also, some tournaments don’t even allow it in competition.

Elbows

When I think of elbow injuries in BJJ, the first thoughts that come to mind are Vinny Magalhaes’s elbow against Werdum in ADCC or Gary Tonon vs. Kron Gracie ADCC.

Some people are ridiculously flexible and have extreme dexterity in their joints, but most people don’t. Hyperextension of the elbow is a prevalent injury in Jiu Jitsu. Armbars will wreck your elbows if you don’t tap fast enough or if you try to fight out of them.

If this happens to you, make sure to ice your elbow right away, you’ll experience pain in your elbow, and you probably won’t be able to fully extend your arm for a while after. 

If you feel that you may have caused some severe damage to your elbow go see your doctor and hold off from training BJJ until cleared.

Also, be aware if you don’t understand how to be taken down, you might try to post your arm out to brace for a fall. If you do this, you might wind up breaking your arm or hyperextending your elbow.

One last note on elbows after training a long time you develop what I can best describe as a callus on your elbows. This is from using them to get up and posting on them, and your elbows might feel sore at times because of this.

Toes

Toes are a lot like fingers. They are susceptible to many of the same injuries as fingers when doing Jiu Jitsu. Watch for breaks and dislocations when it comes to your toes, snagging on someone’s pants when they’re passing your guard happens sometimes.

You also need to look out for the cracks in the mats, getting a toe stuck in one of those will make that little piggy go to the hospital.

If you break a toe or a finger, your most common remedy is going to be to buddy tape the broken finger or toe to its neighbor.

If you’re a savage and snap it back in place on your own, you should ice it a bunch and take a break from training BJJ for a few weeks. After that tape, it up and train, of course, this isn’t recommended, and you should always let your injuries fully heal.

Turf toe

Apart from breaks and sprains on your smaller toes, if your big toe gets sprained near the top knuckle, you’ll experience Turf Toe.

Turf Toe is a common BJJ injury, the pain level on this varies, and it’s not debilitating, but it will bug you enough to make you want to tape it up.

Here’s a great Kurt Osiander Move Of The Week video on Turf Toe taping.

Neck 

Any injuries associated with your spine are scary, use caution whenever you decide to play inverted guard or try some flying stuff. Even getting stacked hard when you’re fighting for an armbar can put a ton of pressure on your neck. 

Recently a young man was paralyzed at a BJJ tournament after attempting a flying armbar. There was also another young man who was stacked on his neck and was seriously injured at another Jiu Jitsu tournament.

Spine injuries should be taken seriously, and if you think you may have done some real damage to your neck, you should get it checked out right away. If you let neck and back injuries go, the damage that you build up over time may be irreparable.

Back 

Back injuries in Jiu Jitsu often happen the same way as neck injuries, watch for positions that put your back in a bad spot. Just like headlocks and guillotines are bad for your neck, twisters and can openers should be played with carefully.

Depending on what area of your back you might have injured, you might end up dealing with upper or lower back pain when doing Jiu Jitsu. Here are some of the back injuries that you might see in BJJ:

Common back injuries

  • Muscle strain
  • Ligament sprain
  • Traumatic injury
  • Herniated disc
  • Pinched nerve

All listed back injuries apply to both upper and lower back, and these are all injuries that can occur while training Jiu Jitsu. 

Again we’re not trying to scare people away from trying BJJ. We just want to make people aware of some of the physical risks involved. If you practice carefully and learn to pace yourself, Jiu Jitsu is safe and a lot of fun.

Gi burn

Gi burn is a common injury that often happens when training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the traditional kimono (gi). 

This is most likely to develop on your face when your opponent runs their sleeve or another area of their gi across your face. It’s usually unintentional and mostly happens during tough rolls when your opponent is going for gi chokes and attacks.

Sometimes you can get gi burn that’s bad enough to scab after a few days, and it’s also possible to get gi burn under your eyelid, which can be very painful.

Mat burn

Mat burn is not the same as gi burn. This happens when you skid an area of your body on the mats and burn yourself in the process. This is another very common injury in BJJ, and you usually get some on the top of your feet when doing wrestling shots barefoot. 

You can also get mat burn on your elbows and other points of contact with the mat, I’ve seen bald guys get mat burn on their heads. If you’re scrambling and moving fast, you can get some mat burn on your toes and feet if you put them down to stop or post.

You can tape mat burn up, but please be careful, really bad cases of mat burn can get nasty looking and remember that open wounds are never good when training Jiu Jitsu.

Eye pokes

The last common Jiu Jitsu injury that we want to mention is eye pokes, while this is far more common in MMA because of striking with fingered gloves, it still happens in BJJ. It’s easy to lose placement of your hands and fingers when you’re fighting grips or trying to control someone’s head. 

These things happen, so be warned that eye pokes occur pretty often, and if the poker’s fingernails aren’t trimmed, this could result in a serious injury. The last thing you want is a scratched cornea; it’s super painful, makes it difficult for you to see, and can damage your vision permanently.  

Make sure to practice good hygiene and keep your nails trimmed short when training Jiu Jitsu, this is also considered proper BJJ etiquette. 

For more on BJJ etiquette check out our article Brazilian Jiu Jitsu etiquette, what to know when training BJJ

That wraps it up

We spent a lot of time talking about different injuries that you can acquire when you train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and the truth is that you can get hurt doing pretty much anything. 

BJJ is a rough sport to take up, especially if you’re older, but if you train wisely and recover properly, you can continue to do Jiu Jitsu for a long time. 

It’s totally up to you on how you handle and deal with injuries and remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you don’t keep that in mind you might not do Jiu Jitsu into your golden year once it has taken a toll on your body. 

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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