Just like any other martial art, injuries in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) are common place. In this blog we discuss the most common BJJ injuries, what can be done about them, and how to reduce your risk of injury.
Common BJJ Injuries
1. Elbow injuries
The elbow joint was found to be the most injured body part during BJJ competitions, researchers in Hawaii found in a 2016 study. They examined over 5,000 competitors over a 6 year period of competition, with 36 gaining an orthopaedic injury (injury to a joint, bone or ligament) during this time. 40% of these injuries occurred to the elbow joint, with almost all of these elbow injuries occurring during an arm-bar hold.
“Over the course of this study, elbow injuries during an arm-bar hold accounted for more than a quarter of all injuries”
These injuries involved either a sprain/tear to the elbow, elbow dislocation, bony tenderness or biceps strain. The study also noted that these injuries were associated with the competitor either forcefully resisting the arm-bar, or not tapping out fast enough permitting their opponent to hyperextend the elbow beyond it’s normal limits.
2. Knee injuries
Knee pain and injuries are common in BJJ largely due to the amount of leg entanglements, heel hook attempts and submissions. Some of these manoeuvres can place significant rotational force on the knee joint resulting in injuries to the ligaments, menisci, and other soft tissue structures of the knee.
Going off the study we discussed above, a further 20% of injuries amongst the Hawaiian BJJ competitors involved the knee joint. These injuries occurred to either the MCL or LCL of the knee, and were caused by a variety of manoeuvres, most notably during a passing sweep.
3. Shoulder pain
Researchers in Miami, USA found that shoulder injuries accounted for 12% of BJJ injuries. This isn’t surprising considering the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body and relies more heavily on ligamentous and muscular stabilisation compared to other joints.
However, just strengthening these shoulder structures usually isn’t enough to “bulletproof” your arms from BJJ injuries. Increasing your shoulder mobility (along with strength and improvements to technique etc) can also help reduce your risk of injury. This is because often joints further down the arm such as the elbow or wrist may have to compensate for poor shoulder mobility during a spar, leaving them more susceptible to an injury (our principal physio, Cameron, can attest!).
Training vs Competition – what causes more injuries?
Studies that have looked into this have found an interesting difference between novice and advanced BJJ athletes. Novice athletes were defined as white and blue belts, with advanced athletes being purple to black belt. They found that novice athletes gained injuries more during training than competition, but found the opposite for advanced athletes:
|Experience level||Training (injured %)||Competition (injured %)|
|Novice (white to blue belt)||54.5%||45.5%|
|Advanced (purple to black belt)||33.9%||66.1%|
It is worth noting that in IBJJF competitions, more senior belts run longer match times (white belts run for 5 minutes, black belts run for 10) meaning that more experienced BJJ athletes have more exposure to injury risk during their competitions compared to novice athletes.
Gi or no Gi?
A 2019 study found that overall, there was no difference in the overall 6-month injury incidence between two groups that reported wearing a Gi 100% of the time, versus a group that reported wearing a Gi less than 50% of the time. However, the incidence of ankle injuries in the non-Gi group was significantly higher (9.2%) compared to the Gi-wearing group (3.6%)
How to reduce the risk of BJJ injuries?
1. Listen to your body
Feeling some pain or discomfort whilst warming up for BJJ is associated with a 2x greater risk of injury compared to not feeling pain or discomfort whilst warming up. There is also a correlation between a longer warm-up duration and reduced risk of injury.
2. Don’t overtrain
Athletes that train 5-6 times per week have a 6.1x increase in injury risk compared to athletes that train 1-2 times per week. Although this could be explained by the increase in exposure to the sport, multiple studies report overuse injuries being the leading cause of injuries in BJJ. A 2018 study in Brazil found that 66% of novice athlete injuries occurred as a result of overtraining (i.e. training at a frequency or intensity that doesn’t allow the body to recover optimally between sessions).
3. Improve your strength and mobility
Prevention is always better than a cure.
Strength level, which is in part influenced by frequency and volume of strength training, has shown to reduce the risk of injury amongst martial arts athletes – particularly Judo athletes. This makes a lot of sense considering the high prevalence of soft tissue injuries (ligaments, tendons etc) that occur in BJJ and martial arts.
Improving the mobility of not only your peripheral joints (such as your shoulders, elbows, knees), but also your neck, mid-back, and lumbar spine can help aid in injury prevention too.
Remember – everyone is different. What you should strengthen or increase mobility in comes down to your fighting style, size, experience, and previous injuries (to name a few). There is no cookie-cutter program that will make you a better BJJ fighter.
How Trained Physio can help
We see people with sporting injuries everyday at Trained Physio – from AFL, to gymnastics, to martial arts. Not only do our physio’s have an eye for diagnosing and treating sporting injuries, but we have a fully-equipped 24/7 gym to utilise for rehabilitation, injury prevention, and general strength & conditioning.
What you can expect from Trained Physio:
- Thorough assessment and treatment of your injury
- Comprehensive exercise rehab from the date of your injury, through to your return to full activity
- Assessment into why the injury occurred in the first place, and what can be done to keep you injury-free
- Manual therapy, dry needling and other treatment-specific techniques as needed
- Training modifications to keep you as active as possible whilst undergoing rehab (if necessary)
- Use of our fully equipped rehabilitation facility for exercise rehab
East Perth Trained Physio
Physiotherapy has several goals including promote healing, reduce pain, avoiding aggravation, optimising physical function and global strengthening to restore normal movement patterns. To see how we can help you BOOK ONLINE TODAY