3 Ways To Get Rid of Chronic BJJ Injuries

chronic bjj injuriesBeing BJJ warriors, we love to spend as much time on the mat as possible. After all the only way to get good at something is to spend enough time doing it. BJJ is a contact heavy, intensive sport that places many demands on the body’s structure and internal systems.

A positive amount of stress is necessary for our physical, mental and spiritual growth. It is also termed as eustress. It keeps our heart, lungs, digestion performing at the optimum levels along with making our tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones stronger. The circulatory system gets more efficient in eliminating toxins. Metabolism improves and the body’s fat reserves become the primary source of fuel. It keeps us is in a fighting shape complete with lean muscles and no extra baggage.

Now the above are all the cool things about training in BJJ. But there is always a point where the stress turns into distress. Along with low levels of energy, crankiness, hazy thinking the most painful and insufferable aspect would be the strain that accumulates in the major joints of the body like the neck, thoracic and lumbar spine, hips, knees, fingers, ankles etc. Ego and pride plays a major role in BJJers ignoring pain signals from such places of the body and continuing to push through the training. It is definitely not an intelligent decision to strain the structures to such a point that a major surgery becomes inevitable.

The problem with pushing through the pain

  • Increased recovery time – Tendons and ligaments take longer to heal compared to muscle fibers as they are made up of collagen and elastogen. Elastogen is the component that provides elasticity to the joints. Minor strains and sprains heal in a week. But this is perhaps the most important period of training where we should work our way around to avoid repetitive strain on the already damaged connective tissues. Not being smart about it will never give them the opportunity to heal till they snap and you would be forced to spend a month off the mat. Definitely not a good trade off if you look at the bigger picture of training Jiu Jitsu for a lifetime.
  • You are never battle ready – The first and foremost quality of a warrior is that he is always functioning at his optimum and prepared for challenges mentally and physically. If you are constantly adjusting your gait because of creaky knees or taking care not to hurt your lower back when you get up from a chair, stop right now and get yourself adjusted. It is not a sign of good health or longevity.
  • Your progress is compromised – Whether you are a starry eyed athlete looking to make it big in the ADCC trials or someone with a day job aspiring to be a black belt and train with the Gracies in Brazil, ignoring chronic injuries will put a full stop to all your dreams. Skills grow exponentially when you spend a continued amount of time on the mat. Forced breaks will push back your development as your brain and body will fall into the old patterns of inactivity and with injuries present, you can’t even challenge yourself to get better.
  • A dysfunctional body – When you damage your connective tissues, your body’s natural structure always goes out of alignment. It is the body’s way of compensating for the function that has been lost, through a different area. For example, with restricted hip mobility now the compensation happens from the lumbar spine and the knees. If you continue to train through this situation, especially strength train, all your muscular structures will now develop to support the misaligned structure. A rounded back, craned neck, bow legs, protruding butt are the dysfunctions we see in regular BJJ athletes and martial artists who don’t value the strength and relaxation that comes from having a naturally aligned body.

Before injuries turn chronic, ensure you have done all that you can to minimize the damage. Some examples would be the RICE protocol (Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation), alternative treatment with heat and ice, anti-inflammatory pills, kinesiology tapes, ankle/knee/elbow sleeves etc.

Our focus for this piece is on what to do when the damage is already done and it’s affecting you to the point that simple, daily tasks like looking over your shoulder becomes painful.

CHIROPRACTIC

You are as old as your spine
~ Chinese proverb

Chiropractic is based on the philosophy that a healthy spine is the foundation of a fully functional lifestyle. It makes perfect sense as the spine encases the spinal cord, the Central Nervous System with billions of connections to the autonomous and peripheral nervous system that regulate all kind of voluntary and involuntary functions in the body. Any misalignment in the vertebrae of the spinal column interferes with regular neural functions and affects all aspects of health – mental and physical.

Chiropractic is closely integrated to the lifestyle of BJJ. BJJ Legends and world champions like Rickson Gracie, BJ Penn, Marcelo Garcia, Rigan Machado etc make it a point to keep themselves healthy and get treated by their favorite chiropractors.

Apart from the usual cervical and spinal adjustments, most chiropractors treat grapplers specially with muscle stimulation, adjusting the hips, shoulder blades and recommending the right kind of massage to even out the imbalances in the rest of the body.

A small note on the misalignments that arise from training in BJJ

Most of the misalignments happen in the neck and spine, followed by the shoulder and hip girdles, knees and ankles.

Getting stacked, rolling on your neck or even being dumped on the neck are fairly common occurrences even during light rolling. It is a flexion heavy routine that makes it necessary for the spine and shoulder to be adjusted.

Then you have neck cranks and chokes which surely affect the nerves from the brain right away. Not taking care of them can lead to loss of sensation in certain areas of the body, loss of motor control or even paralysis in extreme cases.

Maintaining any kind of guard against a resisting opponent places intense demands on the hips, knees and ankles. Add in the latest trends of berimbolo, worm guard and you have a bevy of injuries that affect you in all these places along with the spine.

Watch Scott Singer, a Pan-Ams gold medalist talk about how chiropractic has benefited his training in Jiu Jitsu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wIvbTgYdkE

Also, read an interview of Dr Pete Goldman who is a chiropractor to Rickson Gracie and BJ Penn among other big names – http://www.bjjee.com/interview/interview-w-dr-pete-goldman-chiropractor-to-rickson-gracie-bj-penn/

ACUPUNCTURE

Acupuncture hails from the TCM (traditional Chinese Medicine) practices that model the energy systems in the body and the different locations where the energy flows through it (also known as meridians). Traditional Chinese martial arts, especially the Daoist arts, are heavily based on the study of these energy meridians and applying varying degrees of force and pressure on certain points to heal or damage a person. Leaving aside the Dim Mak phenomenon that has given rise to questionable martial arts practices, acupuncture has proven to be beneficial to BJJ athletes all over the world in treating chronic injuries of the back and muscular imbalances. After all, energy is what makes us capable of performing the athletic feats which others can not fathom and any disruption in its flow is bound to have an effect on our warriorhood.

On a deeper level, TCM treats all ailments to be caused by a stagnation and blockage of the flow of the vital life force in the body, known as Qi. The energy meridians as mentioned above have specific points which are stimulated to release the flow and allow the body to take its own course in healing the injuries and circulating nutrients to those parts.

For example, if you have an ankle sprain from a toehold, the acupuncturist would treat the points on the energy meridian/s that pass through the ankle. Recent research has also shown that acupuncture releases IL-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine that plays an important role in immune responses and helps to heal injuries faster – http://www.healthcmi.com/Acupuncture-Continuing-Education-News/1336-acupuncture-pain-killing-mystery-revealed

BJJ Black Belt Ray Elbe treats lower back pains with acupuncture while in Thailand Asia – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VmwW7TjIPQ

MMA fighter Vitor Belfort undergoes acupuncture treatment regularly to heal himself – https://instagram.com/p/yIFcDoIWuO/

CUPPING THERAPY

Cupping therapy is a form of treatment that dates back to old civilizations of Egypt, China and other Middle Eastern cultures. In this therapy, cups are placed on the skin to create suction that pulls blood to the affected areas, improve circulation and speed up healing. It is widely used by many MMA fighters currently to deal with chronic injuries, lower back pain and spasms, tears of the shoulder and knees etc.

There are two types of cupping therapy:

  • Dry cupping – Suction only treatment
  • Wet cupping – Suction along with controlled bleeding of the affected parts

Before the cups are placed on the skin, a flammable substance like alcohol is placed in the cup and set on fire. When the fire goes out, the cups are placed on the skin. As the air cools, a vacuum is created which causes the blood vessels to expand and the skin to rise. Along with clearing out toxins from the skin, it restarts circulation to areas that are torn or sprained. The major factor that causes injuries to persist is the lack of circulation of nutrients to repair the tissues. Cupping is a direct way to access these areas and resume the process of healing and repair.

Commonly cupping therapy is combined with acupuncture to complete the process of healing. This combination is a must for BJJers who have been in this sport for a while and carry around their fair share of shoulder tears from kimura, a meniscus tear from a kneebar and the likes.

MMA Fighter Cung Le gets treated with cupping therapy by Chris Shelton – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEVoLb5i1Ig

With the advent of modern quick fixes like pills, tapes and bandages we tend to forget the methods that have been working for us for centuries without any side effects. Such traditional therapies have been a constant presence in warrior cultures all over the world as martial arts played the dual role of destruction as well as healing. This tradition has been carried over well by hobbyists who are experts at therapy as well as BJJ in the modern world. They continue to treat the warriors to recover from injuries that modern medicine would write off as untreatable or would suggest a surgery or complete replacement of a major part of the body.

But the most important thing to keep in mind is that once you recover from your chronic injuries with the help of these therapies, make sure to train smart as well as train hard. It’s always better to live to fight another day.

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