Even though I have a deep love for jiu-jitsu, it’s not all gentle and fun. Injuries are a real threat in this martial art, and trust me, they can sneak up on you when you least expect it.
You don’t want to be that person who only starts thinking about injuries in Brazilian jiu-jitsu after you’re already hurt. You know why? Because that was me. I had injuries that put me off for months. And they could’ve been avoided!
Being prepared and knowledgeable about the risks you’re taking can make a massive difference in how you approach your rolling sessions.
So, don’t be like me. Awareness is the first step to reducing your risk of injury in BJJ. Taking a good look at this list of common BJJ injuries is important for anyone who practices this combat sport.
By being aware of what can go wrong, you’re already a step ahead in preventing injuries and ensuring you can enjoy the art of BJJ for many more years to come.
What Are The Most Common BJJ Injuries?
1. Lower Back Injuries
Lower back injuries top the list when it comes to common BJJ injuries. In the heat of a sparring session, BJJ athletes use those core muscles, particularly in the pelvic area.
This is especially true when you’re holding a full guard position on the bottom. Got a bigger opponent? Beware. When they lean or push against you in an awkward way, you might end up with a nasty lower back strain.
Luckily I haven’t had to deal with them yet, but I know many who complain about their back. One of the worst things to deal with.
What makes these lower back issues so common in BJJ?
Often, it’s not a one-time event but the result of continued stress on the back. Imagine being in multiple sparring sessions, doing the same moves over and over—your lower back takes a toll. So the best thing to prevent it is to do lower back exercises.
So, what causes this type of injury?
Well, it can be anything from hyperextending your back during a back mount to poor stacking techniques and even twisting your spine in an unnatural manner.
A spinal disc is slipping out of place. That’s not just a “walk it off” kind of situation; it’s straight-up severe pain that should make you stop your sparring session immediately and consult a medical professional.
2. Neck Injuries
Neck injuries are also common in BJJ, and it makes sense, right? When the sport itself trains you to attack the neck, experiencing neck pain at some point seems almost inevitable.
I got caught in so many triangles and guillotines I lost count. Often I went to bed with a sore neck. This might lead to an injury over time…
The main causes?
Guilotines, triangles, and neck cranks. Another common scenario for neck injuries in Brazilian jiu jitsu is when you’re trying hard to escape a headlock or using your head to post so you won’t get rolled.
Now, if you get injured, it’s super important to figure out what kind of injury you’re dealing with. Is it muscle-related, or did a disc slip out of place? If moving your neck feels heavy and sore, you’re probably dealing with a muscle injury.
But if you’re feeling weird tingling or sharp pain that goes down your arm and into your fingers, you might be looking at nerve damage, usually because a disc has slipped. In cases like this, where the pain is not something to mess around with, stop sparring and go see a doctor.
One Tip To Avoid Injury:
Wrestlers spend a lot of time warming up their necks – Unfortunately, I haven’t seen that often in BJJ gyms. Be like a wrestler, and give your neck attention before rolling!
But be careful. Your neck is vulnerable, so you need to warm up the right way, Here is how to do it:
3. Knee Injuries
Knee injuries are common BJJ injuries—almost everyone gets them, but we don’t talk about them enough.
I can’t even count how many instructors I met with knee issues. If you make it to black belt level without any knee problems, consider yourself part of a lucky minority.
The tricky thing about knee injuries?
They can happen in a flash, with no warning. I remember getting heel-hooked once; I didn’t tap right away because I didn’t feel the pain—until, bam, it hit me. Knee pain has zero build-up; it goes from zero to a hundred real quick.
So, learn from my mistake and tap early. I ended up with knee issues that kept me off the mat for over a month.
Knee injuries fall into two categories:
First, you have muscular injuries caused by landing too hard on the mat or taking a bad bruise. They hurt, sure, but usually, the recovery time isn’t too long.
On the other hand, ligament issues are different. These happen in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when the knee is hyperextended, and some extra force is piled onto the joint. A torn ligament isn’t just painful; it’s severe and can keep you sidelined for a long time.
A Knee getting injured is common in BJJ, and they’re not to be taken lightly. Know the risks, be cautious, and please tap early.
That way, you can continue training without adding yourself to the list of BJJ practitioners with long-term knee problems. Because once a knee problem, always a knee problem…
4. Shoulder Injuries
Ah, shoulder injuries. Now, these can mess you up if you’re not careful. The main causes usually come down to shooting for a takedown, getting caught in armlocks, or posting with your arm in a bad position.
But here’s some good news:
Shoulder injuries are easier to avoid compared to knee injuries if you play it smart. Let’s say you find yourself deep in a kimura; just tap. No shame in it.
Why do shoulder injuries happen so often in BJJ?
Well, it’s often because fighters let their guard down, literally. If you let your elbows hang loose by your sides, you’re just asking to be rolled by an arm attack. And if you resist that? Hello, shoulder pain.
The same thing goes if you shoot too aggressively for a takedown and your opponent sprawls out, sending all their weight crashing onto your shoulder.
The takeaway here?
Keep your elbows close. When you’re in a vulnerable position, especially if you’re caught in an armlock, be humble and tap out. Better to lose a rolling session than to get a long-term shoulder injury that puts you out of action.
Be aware of these common causes, and you’re already on a better path to avoid getting sidelined by shoulder problems.
5. Wrist, Hand, And Finger Injuries
Wrist, hand, and finger injuries are more common in BJJ than you’d think.
Speaking from personal experience, I got a wrist issue because I didn’t tap in time to a wristlock. Lesson learned.
So, why are these injuries so common?
Well, you’re using your hands and fingers constantly in BJJ, from takedowns to mat work. They’re vulnerable, especially during quick movements and heavy pressure.
A common scenario where these types of injuries happen is during grip fighting when you train Gi Jiu Jitsu. Whether you’re standing or rolling on the mat, you’re often gripping an opponent’s collar or sleeve.
If they break your grip with a lot of force, that can mess up the small ligaments in your fingers, leading to sprains.
I experience wrist pain often, especially when I go to practice every day. From all the posting on my hands, the pain guilds up over time. Usually, it recovers quickly when I let my hand rest for some time.
How to prevent those injuries?
You’ll notice a lot of BJJ fighters taping their fingers, and there’s a good reason for it. It offers some protection and stability, so it’s not a bad idea to do the same.
Don’t underestimate these injuries; they can make everything from gripping to tapping out way more difficult. So, be mindful of how you’re using your hands and fingers during your BJJ training. It’s a small change that can make a big difference in preventing these common BJJ injuries.
6. Elbow Injuries
Elbow injuries, yep, been there, done that. I once found myself caught in a rough armbar, and before I knew it, my arm was hyperextended. I had issues for weeks afterward.
While elbow injuries might not be as frequent as some other common BJJ injuries, including lower back or knee issues, they can still be a pain—literally. Hyperextension is one of the main causes here, often resulting from being stubborn in a submission hold like an armbar or kimura.
But these injuries don’t have to be inevitable. Being aware and respecting your body’s limits can go a long way. When you find yourself caught in a bad position, don’t try to be a hero. Tap out and live to fight another sparring session. You’re not doing yourself any favors by pushing through the pain, and you’ll only be putting your elbow at risk.
Update: I now deal with a Golfers Elbow. Turns out my elbows are too weak for all that pulling and grabbing. I’m doing stretching exercises and bought a Flexbar that is supposed to help me recover. So at the moment, I cannot roll much. I keep you posted on my recovery.
7. Cauliflower Ear
Cauliflower ear is one of those things that comes for many in the combat sports world—grapplers, wrestlers, and MMA fighters alike. It might not be the type of injury that keeps you off the mat, but it’s one you can’t ignore.
How does it happen?
It starts with torn cartilage in the ear. Maybe you smacked the mat too hard or repeatedly rammed your ear into your opponent’s body. When the cartilage tears, blood rushes into the area. If you don’t address it, that blood will harden, and, well, that’s how cauliflower ears are born.
At first, you might not even notice it—a little extra character added to your ear. But if you let it go untreated, the situation escalates. The blood in the ear hardens, and then more blood from other bumps and scrapes hardens on top of that. Over time, it’s not just a minor cosmetic issue; it becomes a hideous, ever-growing lump.
So, how do you keep your ears from turning into vegetable lookalikes? You have a few options:
- Rest and Drain the Ear: A few days after the injury occurs, begin draining the ear. Draining removes stagnant blood and lets fresh, oxygenated blood flow in. You’ll need to avoid sparring or any other activity that could worsen the ear condition while you’re treating it.
- Wear Headgear: Headgear can be a preventive measure against getting a cauliflower ear in the first place. But note: if you already have a forming cauliflower ear, wearing headgear can make it worse. Headgear is a preventive solution, not a cure.
- Less Aggressive Sparring: The way you spar matters. If you’re constantly ramming your head into your opponent, you’re asking for a cauliflower ear. Be mindful during your sparring sessions.
I haven’t had to deal with Cauliflower Ear yet, and it’s not seen too often in BJJ. But still, it can happen to you. Some even like having one, but I’d avoid it…
8. Skin Infections
Yeah, we talked a lot about common BJJ injuries like sprains and ligament tears, but there’s another type of injury in BJJ that we need to chat about—skin infections. We’re talking about the nasty stuff: staph, ringworm, and other bacterial problems that can seriously mess with your performance in BJJ and potentially your health.
Mats can be a breeding ground for bacteria if they aren’t cleaned properly. And if you’re rolling around on a dirty mat, you’re practically begging for an infection. Trust me, you don’t want to deal with that, especially when it’s avoidable.
So when you visit a new Gym, look if they clean the mat regularly. If not, I’d go to another gym. Don’t underestimate this.
Clean, Clean, Clean!!
Seriously, keep it clean—yourself, your gear, and your surroundings. Here’s a quick rundown of what you should be doing:
- Personal Hygiene: Shower before and after your BJJ training sessions. Use antibacterial soap to make sure you’re getting rid of as many germs as possible.
- Gear Upkeep: Wash your gi, rash guards, and any other training gear after every session. And don’t even think about lending your gear to someone else; you don’t want to share bacteria. If you are using a BJJ grappling dummy, clean this guy too!! I wrote a Guide on how to wash a Gi and how to wash your rash guards. Make sure to read them too! It’s not as easy as you’d think.
- Mat Maintenance: If you’re a gym owner or have influence over the space, ensure the mats are cleaned and disinfected regularly. This isn’t just to avoid common skin injuries in BJJ but to maintain a healthy training environment for all BJJ athletes.
- Be Mindful of Open Wounds: Got a cut or scrape? Cover it up. An open wound is like an open invitation for bacteria.
Concussions in BJJ are caused by a sudden jarring of the brain. They can lead to headaches, dizziness, feeling sick, and sometimes vomiting. You might think concussions aren’t a big deal in BJJ because there’s no punching, but that’s not right.
A scientific study found that about 25% of BJJ practitioners have had a concussion. This is a serious and underrated issue in the sport. Often, people don’t talk much about it.
One big problem is that many return to practice too soon after getting a concussion. Some folks might not think it’s a big deal, but it is.
If you ever feel symptoms of a concussion, it’s super important to take a break. You should rest for at least a week before you get back on the mats. Your brain needs time to heal, just like the rest of your body.
How to Avoid Injuries in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- Control Your Ego: Have you heard of the rubber band analogy? If both you and your sparring partner pull too hard, that band—much like a tendon or ligament—will snap. Your sparring sessions are not about proving who’s stronger; they’re about learning and growth. Keep your ego in check to reduce the risk of injury in BJJ.
- Warm Up Correctly: Warming up is something often shrugged off in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but it’s essential. Spend time warming up every part of your body, from your knees and wrists to your shoulders, to reduce the chance of injury when training. I didn’t do this at the beginning and paid for it. I’d be further in my BJJ journey if I wouldn’t have ignored this part.
- Tap Out Early: If you’re caught in a submission, tap out early. There’s no shame in it, and it’s better than winding up with a chronic injury that keeps you off the mat. Remember, it’s all part of the learning process in this martial art, and serious injuries can happen otherwise.
- Use Protective Gear: Don’t skimp on safety gear like mouthguards, rash guards, and ear pads. These can help you avoid common injuries like cuts, lacerations, or the cauliflower ear.
- Choose the Right Training Partners: Not every BJJ fighter is a good match for you. Choose partners who you trust, especially when you’re starting out as a white belt. Spot those who don’t have their ego in check and avoid rolling with them. Be Proactive and seek out those you want to roll with.
- Know When Not to Roll: Listen to your body. If you’re injured, don’t push it. Instead, focus on drilling techniques.
By incorporating these tips into your BJJ training, you can lower the chances of getting sidelined by injury and enhance your performance in BJJ. Making these a habit can help you avoid common BJJ injuries and contribute to a safer training environment for everyone.
Here’s an amazing talk from John Danaher about how to avoid injuries in BJJ. It’s a must listen:
Does BJJ Have A High Injury Rate?
Yeah, injuries in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) do happen often. Even though I’d consider it safer than other martial arts in terms of severe injuries, BJJ can be tough on the body. You spend a lot of time on the mat rolling. These movements take a toll on your body.
According to a study by Maximilian Hinz and others, 2 out of 3 BJJ athletes had at least one injury in three years, making them stop training for two weeks. Most of these injuries happened while sparring. Another study found that 9 out of 10 athletes got hurt at least once, and in just 6 months, about 59% of athletes had an injury.
So, BJJ can be hard on your body. Knowing the common ways people get hurt can help everyone be safer.
Let’s be real: Injuries in Brazilian jiu-jitsu are a given. From personal experience, I dealt with sprains, strains, and even more severe injuries. And I want you to avoid going through what I went through.
If you’re serious about BJJ and how to avoid these pitfalls, then paying attention to your body and your environment is crucial.
Injuries usually happen when you least expect them, during intense sparring sessions, BJJ matches, BJJ competitions, or even just a casual roll. That’s why it’s essential to be mindful of the risks and take steps to prevent these injuries whenever possible.
While things like sprains and strains might seem minor, they can escalate into severe injuries if not properly treated or if you rush back into training too quickly. So, don’t just brush them off. Your goal should always be to reduce the likelihood of getting injured while maximizing your performance in BJJ.
Injury is almost inevitable at some point in your BJJ journey, and that’s okay. It’s a part of the learning process. But what’s also a part of the learning process is understanding how to be mindful and proactive in preventing these bumps along the road.
Be serious about your health, as well as your training, and you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever challenges come your way.