Jiu-jitsu and other grappling sports are challenging, yet incredibly rewarding styles that push the body and mind to the limit. And while they're some of the safest systems to practice, it would be inaccurate to say there is no risk of injury. We care a lot about the safety of our students! Our goal is to take proper care to ensure that injury risk is minimized. Because we want you to be as informed as possible, here is a list of three of the most common grappling injuries and how to guard against them.
It is no shock that elbow hyperextension is one of the most common grappling injuries--since elbows and shoulders are some of the most commonly-targeted joints for submissions and attacks. Several armbar variations, for example, continually put this joint at risk for hyperextension. To protect against this type of injury, it is important that participants know not to suddenly jam or "crank" on the submission. This especially important with newer grapplers! As with all submissions, put it on slowly, waiting patiently for the tap. And as always, tap fast and tap often!
If an elbow injury happens, immediately ice the area for ten minutes in order to minimize swelling. If you experience a serious injury, you will need to take some time off from combat in order to properly heal the elbow.
Professor Paul Tom half-jokingly refers to wrist locks as "prison rules." The wrist is the smallest joint that can be legally attacked in most grappling sports, and while it may tick your opponent off, they are legal. Since these submissions go on fast and unexpectedly, mild wrist sprains are a common occurrence when grappling. When grappling on the mat, be aware of the positioning and angles of your hands and wrist so that you do not become accidentally wrist locked. Knowing when to fold under and collapse your arms can save you from a potential wrist injury.
If the sprain is not beginning to feel better after a few weeks, it is possible that you suffered a small fracture. Even if the X-ray did not show a break initially, you should have it examined by a hand specialist, just to be safe.
With all the pushing, wrenching, pulling, and submitting that comes with the territory of martial arts, the shoulder is particularly at risk of injury. Besides failing to tap to a submission like an armbar or Americana, shoulder dislocations can also be caused by "posting" with your hand while falling. Ask me how I know. Dislocations can damage ligaments in the arm and shoulder, and healing and strengthening those again can take months! Treatment for shoulder dislocations is largely dependent on the extent of the injury. Physical therapy and corticosteroid injection are two of the most popular ways to get back out on the mat as quickly as possible.
The combat of martial arts puts your body in a host of strenuous positions. However, with the proper technique and the knowledge needed to mitigate dangers, you can guard against some of the most common grappling injuries. If you do get injured, there are many ways you recover faster. But again, the best way to avoid injury is to tap fast and tap often! In jiu-jitsu as in life, we're either winning or we're learning. When we tap, we learn, and there's no shame in that!