Jiujitsu along with any sport carries its risks and potential for injuries. There are many different kinds of injuries from broken bones to torn ligaments and everything in between. One of the more severe injuries(besides concussions) is those involving the neck. Now, many BJJ practitioners have a “train through the pain” mentality. It’s understandable. When you truly love this sport, you always want to train. No one enjoys sitting on the sidelines while watching everyone else roll. You take some Aleve or Tylenol, and you are good to go. So you think. There is a limit to that thought process however. It is fine to train through a certain threshold of pain, but like anything, your body has its boundaries. It is so important to listen to your body and do not push it to the point where you may possibly incur irreversible damage. The specific injury area I want to address today is that involving the neck.
Neck injuries are actually very common in BJJ. We are always getting put in positions that put a strain on the neck, whether it’s a headlock, we are inverted, or even getting stacked. That part of our body takes a beating in this sport. Now obviously the neck is a vital anatomic junction. It consists of the cervical spine and spinal cord, nerves, intervertebral discs, muscles, tendons, ligaments in addition to some other parts. Injuring the neck can vary from a slight discomfort all the way to paralysis or even death. The most common though that I see in BJJ is the cervical sprain or strain. The cervical spine is the most mobile segment of the spine however it puts it at a high risk of injury. Cervical sprains/strains are soft tissue injuries. A strain is linked to muscle, while a sprain is linked to tendons. Excessive bending forward or backward can lead to frequent cervical injury.
Symptoms include sharp pain, stiffness, limited range of motion and sometimes swelling. When we train, our necks are always being pushed forward or backwards. If you feel pain during or after training in this area, listen to it! It is up to you to know your body. Do not be a tough guy and try to get through serious pain if you know something is wrong. I received a great piece of advice the other day, and that was “think long term.” If you want to train BJJ as long as you would like, you need to understand injury and recovery. If you want to end your BJJ career sooner than expected, then by all means, train through serious injuries. It WILL catch up to your body and it could potentially end your training. If you do incur a neck injury, do yourself a favor and go get the needed physical therapy for it. You may think it is boring or useless but it does work. You may also be told by a doctor that surgery is the best option. Please ONLY do this if it is absolutely necessary. Surgery should be a last and worse case scenario.
I am not saying all neck pain means injury. However if you sense something is off, go get it checked out. It is not worth having it turn into something even more severe and keeping you off the mats even longer. Be smart and train smart. It is also a very good idea for coaches to be educated on these types of issues as well. Coaches may not be doctors, but they can be educators in helping their students understand injuries. Here are a few things to also keep in mind in relation to the prevention of injury:
- Always warm up– Warming up increases blood flow to the muscles. It makes you more flexible and the muscles aren’t so tight preventing many common injuries. Also, it is just as important to do a cool down.
- Always make sure you stretch !
- Know your body’s limits. Do not be dumb trying to prove yourself. You are guaranteed to get injured if you try to do this.
- Do not be a “weekend warrior”. Do not shove an entire week’s worth of training into a short span such as a weekend.
- Invest in a foam roller. Trust me. For general training purposes.
- Recovery. If you already have an injury let it HEAL before getting back on the mats. Do not try and push the recovery process. Sometimes you do need to rest the body in order to get back to your full training potential.