If you’ve grappled more than a few times, you likely know what mat burn is. The red blistering skin is usually not a big deal, but it’s painful, uncomfortable, and prone to infections, so preventing it in the first place is the best course of action. Mat burn is caused by friction between the skin and the abrasive mats, so how do you prevent it?
Mat burn can be prevented by using the right apparel for BJJ, like a Gi and rash guard, so you have little open skin. For the feet, which are the most commonly injured area, you can use Vaseline, tape, and liquid bandages to protect the skin.
Mat burn is treatable and preventable, and knowing how to do both takes little time and effort while saving you unnecessary suffering, so I recommend you to continue reading.
Mat burn is a widespread minor injury in jiu-jitsu and other grappling martial arts. Mat burn affects the skin and is caused by friction between the skin and the mat.
In the same way, you can get rope burn, the mats can wound the skin. The material of the mats is usually relatively rough and textured to provide grip, which makes it ideal for burning tender skin that is not used to it.
Mat burns usually damage the outermost layer of the skin and are characterized by redness, pain, swelling, and blistering. Every body part can become mat-burned, but for most jiu-jitsu practitioners, the toes and tops of the feet suffer the most.
Often, rolling starts on the knees, and you need to drag your feet, which can scrape them. The other super-common cause of burns on the feet is the wrestling penetration step, which by design includes a slide with the foot.
Beginners get mat burn more often for two reasons. First, they are not as efficient in their movements and often slide around more than is necessary.
Second, their skin hasn’t roughened enough to the point where the friction of the mat is no longer an issue. Both of the reasons are quickly resolved automatically with practice.
The more exposed skin there is, the higher the chance of mat burns, so no-gi practitioners have much more to worry about than their gi colleagues.
Mat burns are usually not a big problem, but they are unpleasant and, if left untreated, can lead to complications. Like everything else, prevention is the best medicine, so we start with preventing mat burns before learning how to treat them.
How To Prevent Mat Burn
There is no way to prevent all possible mat burns, or you will have to roll in a foam suit. But there are things you can do and gear to use that drastically reduce the chances. The solution will be different depending on where you usually get the burn.
A comforting fact I can share with you is that the skin gradually calluses up, and eventually, mat burs will stop appearing as your skin gets used to the friction.
Adjust Your Training
Adjust your training and movements if you get frequent mat burns in the same spot. If you have burns on your feet from penetration steps, stop doing them until your skin heals. If it’s on another spot, do what you can to reduce dragging and sliding on the mat, which is ultimately the reason for the burns.
If the burn is nasty, you can skip the drills requiring you to be in positions that aggravate it.
Athletic tape is a trusted friend of most BJJ practitioners and comes to rescue on multiple occasions, including in the battle against mat burns.
Don’t hold the illusion a simple band-aid will do. It will be gone the first minute of rolling, so you need to tape your feet thoroughly to ensure the tape stays in place. Here is an excellent instruction on how to tape your feet:
There are also liquid bandages, which look similar to nail polish but for wounds. This can save much time taping around and is likely much more comfortable.
Wear A Rash Guard
The most obvious way to prevent burns is to cover the skin. For the upper body, if you train in a gi, it will take care of it, but in no-gi, things are not always so clear. The BJJ rash guard has become the uniform of all grapplers because it has many benefits, including skin protection.
While regular t-shirts will also protect the skin, the rash guard is form-fitting, won’t move around or roll up during grappling, and won’t leave open patches of skin. The same goes for spats. If you get mat burns on certain spots on your legs, spats can help you prevent them.
Use Wrestling Shoes
Not all gyms will allow wrestling shoes, but most will, so they can be a solution for those who do a lot of standing grappling and go for a lot of takedowns.
Mat burns on the feet are the most common, and wrestling shoes take care of them completely. But you won’t be able to compete with shoes anyway, so it’s not a good idea to use them all the time.
You can add moisturizer or Vaseline to spots you know can be scraped. A well-hydrated and moist skin is more elastic and much harder to blister. But be careful with what product you use, how much of it you use, and most importantly, when you use it, because no one will appreciate it if you stain the whole mat with Vaseline.
Wear Knee and Elbow Pads
The elbows and knees can also be commonly burned and scraped, and pads help with prevention and can give the pain time to heal. Especially for the elbow, bulky pads will get in the way while grappling, but tight elbow sleeves can be good. The same goes for knee pads and sleeves.
How To Treat Mat Burn
Mat burns are minor injuries that usually heal independently in a week or so, depending on the depth and severity. But it can also cause unwanted complications in the form of inflammation or, even worse, infection with ringworm or some other nasty germ lurking on the mats.
- When you get home, clean the mat burn with cool water to wash away any bacteria and prevent inflammation.
- Apply standard over-the-counter burn cream on the mat burn to relieve pain, reduce swelling, and help it heal faster. Other ointments that can be applied over wounds will also help.
- Apply a dressing with gauze and tape if the burn is more severe. Liquid bandages will also do the trick.
- Monitor the wound and look for any serious inflammation characterized by severe reddening, irritation, or pain, and contact a doctor if you think the situation is serious.
Mat burns are inevitable in jiu-jitsu because of constant contact with the floor. They are mostly minor, heal themselves in a few days, and cause minor discomfort. Still, they can keep you away from the mats for several sessions, so you might want to prevent them. Preventing mat burns can be avoided by sliding and dragging movements that cause extra friction, like penetration steps.
Using the proper equipment, like a gi, rash guard, and spats, takes care of most possible mat burns aside from the toes and feet. For them, applying Vaseline and tape is a proven method of prevention. But don’t worry; the skin will harden and burn much harder in time.