Chances are if you have practiced any contact martial art, such as BJJ or Judo, or any other contact sport you’ve suffered at least one injury. For many people injuries are limited to the occasional pulled muscle or sore joint, while other have suffered major ligament tears or significantly broken bones. Some people are rarely injured, often going years between injuries, while others seem to be plagued by them, with new maladies appearing monthly or even weekly! What all of these people have in common is that they have had their training hindered or even had to take time off because of these injuries.
Avoiding injuries entirely while practicing a combat sport such as grappling is virtually impossible, especially if you train hard or often, which means that it is important for any grappler to understand how to prevent, treat, and recover from all sorts of injuries.
For less severe injuries like a muscle pull or strain the R.I.C.E method should be applied immediately. This stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Resting the injury until it is fully healed will help prevent the injury from getting worse, as well speed up the recovery. Ice helps to reduce swelling and inflammation and should be applied periodically for 15 minutes at a time. Compression will limit swelling as well as provide support and stability to the injured joint or muscle. Elevation also helps to reduce swelling. While the R.I.C.E method is fairly effective at treating non-severe injuries and most will fully heal within 2 weeks. However, if swelling persists for more than a week or pain persist or worsens, you should contact a doctor.
For more severe injuries like broken bones or torn ligaments, there is no substitute to a doctor. Injuries this severe require medical attention and will likely involve casting the broken bone or surgery to repair the bone or ligament. These injuries can involve long recovery periods of 2 weeks to 6 months. It is important to follow your doctors’ instructions and allow the injury ample time to heal. Adequate rest time, proper physiotherapy, and a slow reintroduction to sport is the best recovery techniques for these types of injuries.
While physical recovery of injuries can be difficult, the mental aspect of dealing with injuries can be much more stressful. For instance a grappler that has a history of knee injury may be very nervous when playing a De La Riva or 50/50 guard, because they are afraid of re-injuring that knee. This interferes with their ability to fully learn and master those positions and can make the prospect of competing against opponents from other schools quite frightening. Another example is an athlete who has a severe injury and should be healing and resting. Often these people are too eager to get back to training that they risk their long term health by returning to training too soon. Not only does this put them at risk for further injury, it also prevents the existing injury from healing correctly.
Another less common occurrence is a grappler who is injured in competition becoming afraid to compete again because of a fear or getting hurt again. In all three of these cases, the most important thing is for the grappler to be honest with themselves. If you know you have bad knees, maybe certain guards won’t be a good choice for you, however you should still learn the techniques from these positions, even if it’s just to recognize what an opponent or sparring partner will try to do so that you can react in an intelligent, yet safe manner. If you are injured and find the urge to train you must first ask yourself, is the injury fully healed and properly rehabbed? If the answer is no, then training is most likely a poor idea and you should wait until it is healed to train. If it is no longer injured, and you are returning remember to go easy, especially for your first few weeks back. In these weeks your body is still going to be readjusting to the physical demands of grappling again, and if pushed too hard another injury is very likely. While the allure of Training may seem to be too much to resist, it’s best to wait until you are healthy and then ease back into training. As for a competitor who was hurt, it’s important to note that while BJJ and other grappling competitions are very physically demanding and do involve some risk, serious injuries are a very rare occurrence. That being said it is up to you as an individual to assess your skills and desire to compete then decide whether or not competing is worth the risk of injury.
For almost anyone who truly loves grappling, or any sport, and is injured for a significant period of time, the time away from training can be very hard. We’ve all seen someone come back from an injury too early because they simply missed the sport too much. While this may work out fine on rare occasions, usually it ends in re-injury or even a new injury. A good example is a grappler I know who had a broken hand, and came back to the gym the day his cast came off, without doing any physiotherapy or reasonable assessment of his recovery. He ended up hurting his hand two days later because it hadn’t fully healed. Instead of missing another week waiting for himself to recover properly he jumped back in and as a result he missed an extra month of training.
I actually broke my elbow on the first day of the 2013 Ascension BJJ Open (well technically someone else broke it for me). Despite this I stayed for the second day to cheer on my teammates. I will admit that it was hard to see everyone else competing, yet being unable to take part because of my casted arm. To be fully honest, if I could have I would have taken my cast off and tried to roll without using that arm. Thankfully, nobody else was stupid enough to let me do that and I managed to go the whole day without trying to do my best impression of 2004 Ronaldo Jacaré. This is a perfect example of someone missing the sport so much they are willing to do crazy, and often foolish, things in order to return as soon as they can.
Injuries are a common occurrence in grappling and can range from very mild to fairly severe. Since your body is the most important piece of equipment involved in grappling is important for us to take care of it properly. This means learning how to identify injuries and treat them to the best of your abilities. From pulled muscles to skin infection to broken bones and torn ligaments, it is imperative for us to allow our body adequate time to heal and recover before returning to training. Remember that your gym will still be there when you are healed and that in the long run giving your body the proper amount of time to heal will benefit you much more than jumping back into training a week early.
By Joey Boretski