In comparison to other contact sports, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) has a relatively good safety record. You shouldn’t have to fear any major injuries unless you’re someone who has a big ego or are prone to recklessness. The most commonly reported BJJ injuries are all relatively minor. Maybe you’re thinking about taking up BJJ as a hobby or have a kid that is starting classes soon and want to ensure no one gets hurt. Featured below are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Most Common Injuries along with a few preventative measures to take to minimize your risk of injury.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Most Common Injuries
Mat burns are a BJJ injury that you will inevitably experience. Beginners suffer from them and so do seasoned professionals.
There is some good news. Once you get a mat burn, the skin on the affected areas naturally becomes tougher and is less likely to get injured again as long as you don’t stop training. I wrongly assumed that once you got them, you’d never get them again. I discovered otherwise when I took a break from the gym. The first roll I did on my return resulted in hell-fire burning pain across all my toes and on both my knees.
The areas of the body most commonly impacted by mat burns are the knuckles, tops of the toes, knees, and ankles. Your knees are less likely to get mat burns than the other areas because takedowns don’t happen that often in BJJ. I don’t want to horrify anyone, but during one week, my class trained takedowns every day, and at the end of the week, the skin on my knees had almost completely gone. After that, I was wary about doing any move that required my knees to make contact with the mat. Mat burns really can be the worst. They massively resist your movement unless you build up the courage to face the excruciating pain. In my world, getting four jammed fingers would be preferable to a mat burn.
While jammed fingers tend to be the most common, jamming of all extremities – toes, ears, thumbs – commonly happens in the sport. However, the resulting damage from jamming injuries nearly always tends to be relatively minor.
Many people think BJJ is much more dangerous than what it actually is. This misconception about the sport is perpetuated by the media as the horror stories are the ones that make it into the news. Perhaps you are reading this article because you heard about a competitor whose knee has never been the same after a particularly brutal tournament bout. The serious injuries might be talked about more, but they are very rare. Think about, who is going to run to the press every time they get a mat burn or a minor sprain?
It’s only a matter of time before you sprain a ligament in jiu-jitsu. Sprains are usually a consequence of carelessness from either your training partner or yourself. Last year, when my partner had me in a heel hook, I made an error in judgment and sprained my ankle trying to escape. I was lucky and a minor ankle sprain was all I got. The injury could have been much worse — my knee joint could have been twisted out of its socket. Fortunately, joint dislocations aren’t common. If you exercise wise judgment and asses each situation with care, you are certain to experience fewer injuries. Accepting when it’s time to tap is key to avoiding serious injuries.
A popped rib is one of the scariest BJJ injuries I’ve witnessed. It is a common injury in the sport and I’ve been lucky to never have personally experienced it. However, I know a handful of individuals at my local gym who have had popped ribs. And, I have even unintentionally inflicted the injury on someone — the surprising thing about it was that the person was a good 40 pounds heavier yet I still managed to pop one of their ribs.
It doesn’t matter how big (or small) you are, the risk of experiencing a popped rib is present. The risk goes up if you lose flexibility and/or get stacked. To minimize risk, I always recommend stretching to improve flexibility. That said, just because you are flexible doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind and go all out with the inversions while you are under pressure. Being more flexible just provides you will an extra layer of protection, it’s not a bulletproof shield.
Besides a popped rib, general rib pain in common in BJJ. When I first got into the sport, I experienced rib pain radiating from my back. It was most likely the result of being on my back playing guard a lot of the time. If you experience any rib soreness as a beginner, don’t worry, it will subside over time. Your body just needs time to acclimatize to the increased impact its getting. Eventually, your body will adapt and the pain will go away. Just persevere.
If you have weak wrists or are just a naturally skinny person, you are at risk of experiencing wrist injuries in BJJ. One way to prevent injuries to the wrists is to think carefully about your hand placement when doing live rolls.
When in a bottom side control position, for example, one of your wrists is normally under the opponent’s neck preventing them from placing lots of shoulder pressure on you. The other wrist is pinning down their wrist to stop them from advancing to a new position. However, if you place your hand on the opponent’s hip with the palm facing upwards and they hip switch, your wrist can easily be broken. I’ve actually seen this happen to a training partner and it was upsetting to witness. The same thing nearly happened to me, but I was fortunate to withdrawal my wrist fast enough to avoid breakage. I still experienced a nasty sprain and found push-ups hard to do for months afterwards.
A broken wrist is one of the more serious injuries. You’re much more likely to suffer from a wrist tweak, which can result from landing on your hands or awkward hand placement during rolls.
I’ve had my neck tweaked far too many times and it’s generally been from big guys. A neck tweak is one of the worst common BJJ injuries I’ve experienced. I don’t want to call out the big guys, but it always seems to them using poor techniques when applying chokes in a bid to use the strength in place of skill. If you find yourself in a choke that feels more like a neck crank, you need to explain to your opponent how to use the right technique. Or, if the pain is too much, just tap out. It’s not worth trying to tough it out when in a neck crank as the pain the next day will hurt like hell. You’ll barely be able to move your neck the pain will be so bad. It’s also possible that you could sustain a more serious injury.
You can avoid most injuries by not being too prideful about tapping out as soon as you know you’re done in for. Don’t try your luck. Become outcome-independent. Learn that winning or losing isn’t the most important thing. What matters is doing your best. The reason so many competitors get injured in tournaments is that they can’t see beyond a win. Their tunnel vision prevents them from making smart judgment calls and puts them at greater risk of injury.