Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) FAQs

What is BJJ?

Brazilian jiu-jitsu (abbreviated BJJ, and also sometimes called Mexican ground karate or the Joe Rogan Appreciation Society) is a grappling martial art with a heavy focus on ground fighting and submissions. BJJ was first developed around 1920 by the Gracie family in Brazil after a visit from a travelling Japanese judo player. BJJ continued to develop and eventually came to be its own defined combat sport. Through the innovations, practices, and adaptation of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Judo it became an essential martial art for modern MMA. It can be performed in a traditional uniform (called a gi) or you can forgo swanning around in your silk kimono and grapple like a real man in no-gi BJJ.

What are some common injuries in the sport of BJJ?

The most common injury is probably a bruised ego. Aside from that, strained muscles (neck and/or back usually) and sprained ligaments (ankles, wrists, hands and knees usually) are the most common injuries I see. These are often ‘low-grade’ meaning they heal well with a bit of time and movement within pain limits on a foundation of healthy lifestyle factors (more in question 3 below). 

A 2014 paper by Scoggin et al. looked at injuries sustained across several BJJ tournaments in both gi and no-gi matches and found elbow injuries to be the most common (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Distribution of Orthopaedic Injuries by Injury Area, Type, and Mechanism across 5022 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Matches. (Scoggin et al., 2014)

What are some common mistakes that BJJ athletes make with their recovery?

The main mistake I see BJJ athletes making with their recovery is this: their focus is in the wrong area. I know Joe Rogan is always bangin’ on about how important stretching and heat shock proteins are, but these are not where your focus should be! Your recovery should ‘major on the majors’. 

Some of the ‘majors’ for recovery in no particular order might be: 

  • Sleep: quantity and quality, 
  • Diet: macronutrients, micronutrients, fibre and hydration (Lee et al., 2017)
  • general exercise and activity (training load, periodisation, programming variables etc.), 
  • mental health status (beliefs, stress, anxiety, depression etc.), 
  • social dimensions (relationships, socialisation, support etc.) and 
  • work-related factors (work-life balance, financial position etc.).

The major mistake I see across all sports is a focus on the ‘minors’; namely passive interventions (massage, dry needling, cupping, hot/cold therapies etc.). 

What role does physiotherapy play in the sport of BJJ?

Similar to our role in other sports, we can help take the guesswork out of your training and recovery. 

Advice and education regarding training (volume, intensity, frequency, exercise selection, etc.), injury reduction, tracking progress, and working with the coaching staff to facilitate peak performance for competition. Some other roles include stretching (static, dynamic, contract-relax etc.), massage, manipulations and mobility work. These other roles fall into ‘symptom modification’, which may allow some pain relief so the athlete can focus on what’s most important: conditioning and technique development.

Why is it important to see a physiotherapist who understands BJJ? 

It’s nice to see a physio who has cauliflower ear (so they look as ugly as you), knows the nomenclature (so you don’t need to waste time explaining the movements that hurt), regularly trains (so you don’t need to explain why you’re addicted, train several times per week/day and probably won’t stop even if instructed to), follows all the same BJJ Instagram and TikTok accounts, gets spammed by BJJ Fanatics ads, and has also very likely been injured rolling themself! Sorry, that was a long sentence. Anyway, I understand the unique demands of the sport and can provide a more tailored treatment approach with a specific focus on your needs. I’ll know exactly when you’re ready to return to the mats, what positions are safe (S-mount, butterfly, etc) and what training you are suitable for (drilling, bag work, positioning rounds, live rounds, etc.). 



References:

Lee, E. C., Fragala, M. S., Kavouras, S. A., Queen, R. M., Pryor, J. L., & Casa, D. J. (2017). Biomarkers in Sports and Exercise: Tracking Health, Performance, and Recovery in Athletes. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 31(10), 2920–2937. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002122

Scoggin, J., Brusovanik, G., Izuka, B., Zandee van Rilland, E., Geling, O., & Tokumura, S. (2014). Assessment of Injuries During Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Competition. Orthopaedic Journal Of Sports Medicine, 2(2), 232596711452218. doi: 10.1177/2325967114522184
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