[EXPLAINED] Is Jiu-Jitsu Harmful to Your Body?

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Before starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, many people ask whether it can cause permanent injuries to your body or not.

In this article, I go into detail about the damage Jiu-Jitsu can do to your body, and ways to alleviate it.

Some things are inevitable as in any sport, and other things are preventable.

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Is Jiu-Jitsu Harmful to Your Body?
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Is Jiu-Jitsu Hard On Joints?

The answer is yes. Jiu-Jitsu is hard on your body, but if you do any sports injuries are inevitable.

Tennis, football, basketball, etc. all cause common injuries, but they aren’t mentioned much, compared to the injuries incurred in combat sports.

In martial arts, you learn to control resisting opponents, so you may occasionally suffer an injury.

The most common injuries are neck, back, shoulders, knees, elbows, and toes.

Many black belts have had at least one joint injury.

Whatever the injury, it can range from a minor strain to a major tear.

Age also plays a role.

You’re more resilient in your early 20s than in your middle years. The younger you are, the quicker you recover, and you’ll have a better hormonal profile.

You may not notice any problems for a few years, and even then you’ll probably be able to train around them or recover quickly.

As men age, their testosterone levels decline, and there’s only so much they can do without hormone replacement therapy.

This will affect your recovery time, and increase your chances of injury.

You’ll have general discomfort from time to time, but it’s nothing a couple of days off of training, a good amount of walking, and a few nights sleep won’t fix.

Those over 40 years of age, will need to be more concerned about their conditioning, nutrition, and recovery, as they will no longer have the benefit of youth to fall back on.

I will explain the most common injuries and how they occur.

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Neck Injuries

Neck injuries in jiu-jitsu
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Neck injuries and discomfort are inevitable for someone who trains BJJ at least 3 times a week.

One recommendation I have is to tap early to neck cranks. If it’s just training, it’s not worth trying to fight through them and then dealing with a stiff neck and some discomfort for a few days.

If you’re having sharp, acute pains around your neck and traps, it is a sign you shouldn’t be training.

It’s important to know when a spinal injury is serious.

Numbness in your arms could be a sign that something is pressing on your neck or spinal disks.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor.

As BJJ is all about controlling posture and controlling people’s heads, these injuries are inevitable.

It is not normal for your head to be twisted for extended periods of time.

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Is jiu-jitsu harmful to the body
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For example, when stuck in a triangle, your posture will be broken.

When caught by a good cross face, your head is going to be twisted a little.

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When rolling, you want to keep good spinal alignment and good posture. This is both in the top and bottom position.

Knee Injuries

Knee injuries in jiu-jitsu
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BJJ is very prone to causing knee injuries. Strengthening your knee ligaments is very difficult, and once your cartilage is gone, it’s gone forever.

BJJ, however, does not damage cartilage too much when compared to running-based sports.

Knee injuries can be classified as avoidable or unavoidable.

There are certain things that can’t be avoided, such as rolling to defend a heel hook, which results in a knee pop, or bringing your butt to your knees.

However, other things can be avoided so as to not cause an injury.

Falling body weight has caused a greater number of injuries than any leg lock. Most avoidable is jumping guard.

In a dynamic position such as stand up, your opponent may move and instead of landing on their hips, you land on their knee folded inward.

You wouldn’t want any weight falling onto a straightened-out knee.

I recommend pulling guard which is far safer.

The other high-risk technique is a Kani Basami or scissor takedown, where you use your overhook and base to jump into cross ashi.

Similar to jumping guard, throwing body weight anywhere near the knee is very dangerous and should be avoided.

An alternative to Kani Basami, is the Victors Roll, where you roll underneath your opponent not jump into them.

It’s far safer, and you still end up in the cross ashi position.

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Lastly are heel hooks that are intimidating to beginners, but they are no worse than Kimuras or Americanas.

Some people are very inflexible and just a little twisting pressure can cause ligament damage to their knees. It’s important to understand how flexible your knees are.

People like Vinney Magalhaes, who has very flexible knees, so much so, that in his match with Craig Jones he broke his tibia bone. He said at no point did he feel pressure on his knee, when Jones was performing a heel hook on him.

If you’re new to heel hooks, I suggest you first drill a lot, so you know what it feels like to have pressure on your knee.

Then progress to getting to the finishing position, not applying pressure, and stopping during rolling.

Once you’re confident with that, you can start treating it like any other submission.

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Back Injuries

Back injuries in jiu-jitsu
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Due to the nature of all grappling sports, back discomfort, and injuries are inevitable.

As a result of the spine being twisted, discomfort will be experienced from time to time. It’s important to know when the injury is serious.

Numbness in your lower body could be a sign that there is pressure on your spinal disks. This is very serious and you need to see a doctor.

The lower back or lumbar area tends to give most people problems. 

This could be as a result of lifestyle factors, like too much sitting and not enough walking.

Pain in the lumbar area can be managed with simple lifestyle changes.

Back pumps, which occur when the fascia in the muscles become very tight, is extremely unpleasant to experience and it’s even worse when you’re doing BJJ.

A dosage of roughly 1 – 3 grams a day of Taurine is a great supplement to help you manage back pumps.

Heavier people normally need to increase the dosage.

Taurine can be purchased from most health food shops and is extremely cheap.

Drink plenty of water and some foam rolling will help as well.

Another problem many grapplers suffer from, is sciatica.

If there is a tightness in your hamstring, and you’re having lumber problems, you’re most probably suffering from sciatica.

Try the following stretch to relieve this pain:

Lie on your back. Hold the ends of your belt in your hands. Place your foot in the loop, and bring your leg up to approximately 90 degrees and hold for roughly one minute per leg.

This is part of my daily stretch routine. I recommend you try it too.

If you’re a guard player, people stacking you and using double under passing can cause back discomfort. This can happen from time to time.

If you have unbearable back pain for weeks or months at a time, you’ll need to see a doctor.

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Elbow Injuries

Elbow injuries in jiu-jitsu
Credit: Cleveland Clinic

Elbow injuries can pop up from time to time, mostly from hyperextension due to armbars.

Elbow injuries are fortunately rare.

Working the tricep muscle in the gym, with a decent weight and high rep range will help strengthen the muscles and ligaments in and around the elbow.

This will further reduce the possibility of injury.

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How To Mitigate Damage?

Though injuries are bound to happen, below are some tips to help mitigate damage and increase longevity in BJJ.

Get Enough Rest

Get rest for jiu-jitsu
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The most important factor to rest, is sleep.

A comprehensive guide on why sleep is so important is Matthew Walker’s book, titled Why We Sleep.

This book is a must-read for anyone who is serious about their health.

Key points on sleep:

It is important to sleep seven to nine hours a day.

Try and keep to the same sleep schedule no matter what day of the week it is. If you sleep 11 pm-7 am throughout the week, stick to that on the weekend.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bed, as this disrupts the quality of sleep. Cut out all caffeine and alcohol roughly 6 hours before you go to sleep.

Avoid artificial light 1-2 hours before bed.

Try getting into a good evening routine of having a warm shower or bath, followed by light stretching, reading a book, or journaling.

You could do all or some, but TV or phone before bed is not advisable.

You need a decent amount of sleep if you want to be mentally sharp. This will help to maximize your training.

Other than sleeping, you could take a walk or do a drilling session if your body is sore. It is necessary to get your blood flowing. Doing nothing is not advisable.

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Eat a Good Diet

Eat well for jiu-jitsu
Credit: Everyday Health

It’s wise to develop a good diet and nutritional habits as soon as possible.

If you are under the age of 30, you can out-train a bad diet, but it’s not optimal.

Don’t eat too much sugar, and stay away from processed meat and seed oils.

Credit: Dr Cate Shanahan

8 types of seed oils should be avoided: Canola, Corn, Cottonseed, Soy or Soybean, Sunflower, Safflower, Grapeseed and Rice bran oil.

Unfortunately, they’re found in most foods that you wouldn’t expect, like bread, microwave rice, and almost all pre-packaged foods in the supermarket.

These oils cause inflammation in the body when consumed. Therefore, it is better to avoid these oils.

It is advisable to use olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil or some sort of animal fat when cooking.

Other than that, try to make healthier lifestyle choices overall.

It’s important to not put on body fat or to feel the effects of nutrition deficiency

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Stretch often

Stretch often for jiu-jitsu
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Stretching is a must, regardless of how much you train, since it improves mobility and reduces discomfort.

There are many free routines on YouTube.

I would highly recommend you make stretching a part of your daily routine.

Be sure to stretch the hips, hamstrings, quads, back, and shoulder muscles. These areas tend to be tight.

Not only will it reduce injuries, but it’ll also improve your Jiu-Jitsu by making you more flexible.

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Weight Lifting

Weight lift for jiu-jitsu
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With three 45-minute to 1-hour weight lifting sessions a week, you can increase strength and reduce injuries.

Be sure to do all the compound movements; Deadlift, Squat, Bench, Rows, Overhead Press and Lunges, or a variety of these exercises that you prefer.

Try to add some progressive overload to each session. Either by increasing the weight, reps, or sets.

If that’s not possible, try controlling the eccentric or the lengthening of the muscle for a longer period of time than usual.

If you are new to weight lifting, ask someone experienced at your academy to help you or to give you a few tips.

I have found tremendous benefits in adding just 3 lifting sessions a week. My energy levels have increased and I recover much faster.

Conclusion

We all want to train as much as possible, but injuries are inevitable from time to time.

Make sure they’re not serious before going back to training. You should be able to train for decades and see BJJ is no more dangerous than any other sport or martial art.

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