Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Jiu Jitsu Sandwich: The Dilemna Between the Desire to Train and Injury Recovery.

I was talking with longtime friend/teammate last week after a training. He was lamenting on his knee problems and the constant struggle between wanting to train more and knowing when to rest/heal. We were joking about the seemingly uncanny and never-ending cycle: one injury (in his case, one knee) heals and is immediately replaced by another (in his case, the other knee).

The Problem: The Grappler's Desire to Train Overshadows His Injuries.

I've been in my friend's situation many, many times over the years. It's commonplace for anyone who trains a lot of jiu jitsu. You suffer injuries that turn to nagging pains and ailments - from so-called "tweaks," to strains, to "popping" joints, to pulled or torn muscles/ligaments/joints, to bruises, to hyper-extensions. It's all frustrating, but the real issue, to me, seems to be the grappler's misguided desire to continue training despite glaring signs that he (or she) must rest.

For many, missing out on training in order to recover from an injury (large or small) for any "prolonged" period of time (e.g., , more than a few days) is more painful than the injury itself. So, the injured or ailing grappler makes questionable judgements about when to train and when to rest ("light training" is rarely employed). The risk of debilitating or surgery-requiring injury combined with extreme pain is pretty much the only thing that will keep the dedicated grappler off the mat. All of this belies common wisdom about sports medicine and recovery - i.e., rest is necessary for healing to occur.

The Solution: The Grappler Must Employ Common Sense and Self Control.

I admit, I am guilty of training this way and even encouraging others to do so. But, admittedly, after many years, I'm beginning to see the toll it takes (on other, of course, not me). If you do this long enough, you will see many of your friends and teammates suffer injuries that lead to chronic pain and/or surgery. You also see many grapplers hang it up and quit (attrition is a big problem in our sport and perhaps the subject of another post).

The solution? Well, it's a fuzzy science at best. And, I'm definitely marginal when it comes to following the "rules" about resting and healing, but, even I have my limits. I try to follow basic common sense and discipline when it comes to healing, for the sole reason of avoiding a worse injury that will really take me out.

Here's a bit of advice:

  1. Always wear protection. I'm talking about wearing a mouthguard and employing the requisite knee/ankle/elbow support (mainly if you've had prior "issues"). Headgear is an optional.
  2. Tape everything. Tape your injured fingers, toes, wrists, ankles, etc. It's a simple, but effective safety measure, allowing you to continue training with injuries that are not worth keeping you home.
  3. Avoid free-training if you are in severe pain or immobile. This seems logical, but it's something to keep in mind. Training like this is definitely a prime opportunity to get really hurt. Know when to quit and heal up.
  4. Be mindful of overtraining. I know a lot of grapplers who start to erode after a 4th or 5th straight hard training day (I'm not talking about training technique only or rolling "light"). It's a difficult pace to keep up, especially if have a job and/or some form of life. Note: recovery varies for each individual, but for the novice or intermediate grappler - be careful.

OK, grapplers, go train ... and be safe (I guess).


  1. I broke two toes and pulled out the duct tape. So it goes. I will NEVER stop training. However, I did bail on the Mundials due to the flu and a chest infection. I had to.

  2. Wait - are you talking about me again? I took 3+ weeks off for my back. I mean, how long am I supposed to wait?
    - Dylan

  3. And we're not even 40 yet!! Imagine how we're gonna be at 50. Hopefully not betn over and crippled.

  4. Any tips on how to properly tape fingers? My finger joints in my index and middle fingers are chronically sore and swollen.


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