Magdalina Gofman, MSPT, and brown belt at Ralph Gracie Jiu-Jitsu San Francisco is our primary physical therapist for grappling and MMA related injuries. The following is the first in a series of injury prevention and rehabilitation posts from Magdalina Gofman.
Seven Ways To Prevent Grappling Related Injuries:
1. Listen to your instructor. Make sure you practice safe and correct technique. Jiu-Jitsu movements are designed to be safe and natural for the body. Most of them can be performed with a neutral spine, or in a curled / "crunch" position (as opposed to an hyperextended or twisted spine). Keeping good posture helps use the proper muscles that support your spine, especially when kneeling or standing.
Some other examples of correct technique:
*Illegal grips are guaranteed to break your fingers.
*If you are flexible, don't try to overuse your flexibility to achieve a position. At the end ranges of the flexibility of a muscle, the muscle is not strong. Try to stay in the mid range of your muscle flexibility and use proper technique to line up your body to achieve the technique instead of reaching far with your hips, legs, arms, or twisting the spine.
*Avoid turning your feet out, it will save your knees. When your knees are bent, they should be pointed forward (the direction your pelvis is facing) or outward, never inward with the ankles and feet out. This is especially important when you are transitioning from a kneeling position to a sitting position, which includes going from turtle to guard.
2. Have good flexibility especially in your hamstrings and hips. If you don't have enough motion in your legs/hips, the motion will come from somewhere else, most of the time, your back. Hips are meant to rotate, if your hips don't have enough flexibility in rotation, your spine will over-rotate. If you don't have enough flexibility in your hamstrings to be stacked comfortably, your low back will have to take over and be overstretched.
3. A strong core helps with everything. It connects your lower half to your upper half, it helps you move faster, allowing for more fluid transitions. It helps your balance, again by connecting your upper half and lower half. It helps your body be stronger, so you don't have a missing link in the chain (with a strong upper body and strong lower body). It ensures that no one twists you up...
4. Do a proper warm up, which includes warming up all of your muscles as well as stretching. For example, I make sure I can do a comfortable "Plow pose" (from yoga) before I train. That means I can be comfortable stacked before someone else tries to stack me.
5. Be honest with yourself, don't train when you are too exhausted, or when you are injured. If you do decide to train, it's ok to tell your partner how you feel. We are all at the academy to train with each other, not kill each other. If you are injured, tap early, after all, it's just a game. If you know there is a certain person that is always in competition mode, try to avoid that person when you are injured.
6. Regular yoga practice can be an excellent compliment to your jiu jitsu training, teaching you how to stay calm and breathe smoothly, even in challenging positions, and by keeping you flexible. Weekly yoga practice can reverse all the general tightness and stiffness that jiu jitsu practice generates, thereby making you more fluid, less rigid, faster. Think of it as an investment on your long term training, as opposed to something that takes away from your weekly training schedule.
7. We should keep in mind that we are also responsible for the safety of our training partners and preventing their injuries. At the academy, before winning, comes safety.
Magdalina Gofman, MSPT