Injuries in BJJ are a fact of training. Whether you get injured in your first month or make it to blue belt without any major damage, you will inevitably face a serious injury if you pursue BJJ for the long haul. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a black belt who never dealt with a serious injury throughout their years of training. Injuries are simply a reality of pursuing BJJ.
Let us be clear. We are not talking about the usual aches, bruises, and pains of training BJJ. We are specifically discussing major injuries that require weeks or longer of time off and serious training adjustments. These are injuries that may require physical therapy or possibly surgery to fully recover. They will certainly affect your mobility, movement, and daily activity while your body heals from the trauma.
While there is no special formula for completely avoiding injuries in BJJ, the following are a few tips you can use to minimize the long-term impact of injuries on your training and ensure you stay committed to your pursuit of BJJ despite the physical realities of martial arts.
Disclaimer: this is not medical advice. You should always consult your healthcare provider in the case of a serious injury.
Take the appropriate time off after your injury in BJJ
Taking time off for BJJ injury is vital for minimizing the overall duration of the recovery and ensuring you do not continually reinjure yourself. The most important focus of early stages of injury recovery is avoiding further damage to the nearby tissues. During the acute phases of an injury, the damaged area will be swollen and very susceptible to additional destruction due to the weakened tissues.
Taking a few days or weeks off in the immediate aftermath is usually a minimum requirement for healing from major trauma to joints and muscles. Furthermore, damaging already injured tissues because of your impatience to get back on the mats will only set you back even further and delay your full return to training BJJ.
Seek medical care for BJJ injuries if needed
If you have taken a week off from BJJ and the swelling or pain does not subside, you should consider seeking professional medical care. While you can certainly see if the injury begins to improve without immediate medical care, an injury that is not healing properly or in a timely manner should be assessed by a medical professional to know the full scope of the damage.
While medical care may be an expensive pain-in-the-ass, if you need it, you need it. You can certainly do everything possible to avoid this by taking appropriate time off and stopping further damage. However, if the injury does not begin healing, immediate medical attention should be a priority.
Additionally, if the immediate damage seems to improve but you have nagging pain or decreased or painful range of motion in the affected area, getting a referral for physical therapy should be another top priority.
The difference between properly rehabbed injuries and injuries that are not fully treated can be the difference between bouncing back stronger or having the injured site never actually return to baseline function.
Reflect on how the injury occurred (and adjust accordingly)
Once the acute trauma has settled and you have assessed whether medical care is required, you should reflect on the injury event itself to learn from the experience and modify your training style going forward.
Think about how and why the injury happened. Were you going hard in training too many days in a row and overused or strained a joint or muscle? Consider taking more days off during the week or dialing the intensity down for some (or all) of your training sessions in the future.
Did a partner jump on a submission too quickly? Were you being stubborn on a submission that resulted in a joint hyperextension? Worse, did your partner intentionally ignore your tap? Consider picking your training partners more wisely, checking your ego and tapping early, and possibly informing your coach if you feel that an individual is hands-down an unsafe training partner. For the most part, injuries associated with submissions themselves are usually a matter of tapping early in the future or sticking with trustworthy training partners.
Modify your training during healing to avoid stagnation
If your injury recovers to the point where you can begin training, but is not fully healed, consider adapting your overall training until you are fully recovered. This might mean wearing an ankle brace until you restore range of motion. Perhaps you can begin drilling again in a controlled manner but avoid rolling live until you completely recover.
If your body permits, doing modified training is far better than sitting on your butt for too long before attempting any return to training. Even if it just means focusing a weight-training routine on an uninjured area, returning to modified physical activity as soon as possible will go a long way towards minimizing physical deconditioning and mental stagnation from an extended time away from the mats.
Make the best use of your BJJ time slot
The final piece of advice is to treat your training slot as sacred time, even if you are not actually on the mats or in the dojo. If you trained three evenings a week and are suddenly unable to train BJJ due to injury, try to find a productive or similarly fulfilling activity to fill your BJJ time slot.
For example, you could consider attacking that home improvement project that keeps getting kicked to the back burner due to your commitment to BJJ. As mentioned previously, you should also strive to find some physical activity you can do in the meantime that does not affect your injured area. Even spending more quality time with your family while you recuperate can be a positive way to spend your training slot during the injury healing process.
If you are laser-focused on BJJ, you could opt for a BJJ instructional on a topic you do not cover frequently in class. You might also attend your normal BJJ class but sit on the sidelines. At the very least, you will see the moves your coach is teaching and stay in touch with your BJJ community even though you cannot physically train.
While you may be tempted to crack a beer and binge-watch Cobra Kai while your teammates are grinding away at BJJ, we would advise against this in the long run. Of course, a few indulgent Netflix evenings while your nurse your wounds is OK. Just be sure not to make it a habit that you then must break once you are physically able to return to training.
The bottom line on dealing with injuries in BJJ
Injuries are a harsh reality of participation in any sport. In a contact sport such as BJJ, you will inevitably get a moderate-to-severe injury at some point during your training. Training smart, checking your ego, and picking safe training partners can reduce the frequency of injury. Nevertheless, sooner or later, you will suffer physical trauma. While there is no way to completely avoid the hassle and stress of an injury in BJJ, following our tips for dealing with injuries may help you reduce the overall setback of your injury and return to training as quickly as possible. You might even be mentally and physically stronger than you were before the injury.