BJJ is among the fastest-growing combat sports, and one of the key reasons behind this trend is the low injury rate. But is BJJ the safest martial art? How dangerous is BJJ after all?
With a rate of 9.2 injuries per 1000 athlete exposures, BJJ falls into the group of the safest martial arts overall. It is safer than conceptually similar arts, such as wrestling and judo, and much safer than any striking art. However, BJJ is hard on your body, and you can easily get hurt without the methodical approach.
Let’s further explore the dangers of BJJ, the common injuries, and what you can do as practitioners to lower the risk of suffering an injury.
Is BJJ Dangerous?
Dozens of studies have dived deep into researching the dangers of BJJ, and they have all come to the same conclusion. BJJ is less dangerous than most other martial arts. Authors have identified an injury rate of 9.2 injuries per 1000 exposures, or 46 injuries per 5022, which is relatively low.
This makes BJJ among the safest martial arts a person can train in. Safer than wrestling, judo, and all striking martial arts such as Muay Thai or Boxing. The type of injuries matters as well.
Due to the lack of striking, BJJ athletes suffer the ones related to hyperextension of joints or back. Striking arts are more dangerous, as repeated strikes to the head lead to concussions and brain traumas.
The other study included a 67-question survey completed by 1140 BJJ athletes worldwide regarding their injury history over the past 3 years. The results further prove the overall safety of BJJ:
Out of 1140 BJJ athletes:
- 31.2 of them managed to stay injury free
- 48.7% have suffered 1 injury
- 16.6% have suffered 2 injuries
- 3.5% have suffered 3 injuries
The most common cause of injury was submission (29.7%), followed by takedowns (26.4%) and guard passes (24%). The submission that contributed the most was the armbar (22.4%), followed by kimura (12.6%) and heel hook (11%).
Overall, BJJ is not injury free, but the risk of hurting yourself, notably the ones causing long-term damage, is low.
Let’s further explore the dangers of BJJ by looking at the differences between injuries in competition and training.
How Many BJJ Injuries Happen In Competition?
Competition is where the intensity of the exchanges goes to another level. According to a study, 9.2 injuries happen per 1000 match exposures, way lower than in similar martial arts such as wrestling. The most common are orthopedic injuries (78%), followed by costochondral injuries.
In competition, you must be extra careful with submissions as you must be in training. The goal is to cause injuries or force the opponent to tap out with every move. This means harder pulling on the joints, more pressure from every position, and stronger squeeze or pull on the joint to get a submission.
Thus, excessive pulling on the arms or legs often results in minor or severe injuries such as:
|Type of injury
|Number of injuries per 5022 match exposures
|Takedown; Passing Guard
|Foot and ankle
|Caught in a Gi uniform
How Many BJJ Injuries Happen In Training?
The majority of BJJ injuries happen in sparring. According to one study, 77.6% of injuries occurred in training, while 9.6% in competition matches. The most common injuries are skin infections, hand and wrist injuries, arm and elbow, and knees.
This is normal as practitioners spend more time sparring in training than competing. However, the teaching methods contribute to the higher injury rate in training. BJJ, as a concept, puts a lot of emphasis on sparring as the best method to learn how to apply techniques in a match or real-life scenario.
As a result, students spar daily right from the first day, significantly increasing the chances of getting hurt. Or, it explains why injuries are more common in training than in competition, especially among the ones at the lower ranks.
The findings vary between studies regarding the most common injuries in BJJ training. For this article, we will rely on medically diagnosed injuries by anatomic location from the study “Prevalence of injuries during Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” performed by McDonald:
|Type of injury
|Number of injuries
|Dirty mats; Mat burns
|Takedowns; Passing guard
|Foot and toes
|Hand and Fingers
|Caught in a Gi uniform
|Arm and elbow
|Head and face
|Intense grabbing and pulling
Which BJJ Techniques Cause the Most Injuries?
According to studies, most orthopedic injuries are caused by armbar submission. The second place belongs to the Kimura joint lock, and the third to the notorious heel hook technique.
Armbar is a very risky submission because the margin for error is small. Due to the powerful hyperextension of the joint and immense pressure, it is a thin line between tapping out on time and walking out with an anterior sprain or other elbow injuries.
Heel hooks, leg locks, and other submissions targeting the knees and ankles are also sensitive and may easily result in a serious, career-changing injury. That’s why white and blue belts are prohibited from playing with leg locks in IBJJF competitions. It’s so easy to hurt the opponent.
However, in most cases, the submission mechanism does not contribute to the injury as much as human behavior does. Some people, notably competitors and the ones with strong egos, would end up in a submission and refuse to tap. They would give their best to get out, or in worst cases, muscle their way out of a joint lock and risk suffering an injury.
How To Reduce The Risk Of Injury in BJJ?
BJJ has a low injury rate overall, but still, there is a chance you can get hurt whenever you step on the mats. Thus, there are certain things you can change in your approach to training to further reduce the risks of potential injuries and hopefully, stay injury-free.
Warm-Up Before Each Session
Many practitioners have a terrible habit of skipping warm-ups before the class. However, BJJ exchanges are intense, and you need progressively prepare the body for such activity. Before each class, students do dynamic stretches and other exercises to speed up the blood flow, warm up and stretch the muscles.
Pick The Right Training Partners
Rolling with the right training partners is very important in injury prevention. Each BJJ group includes around 15–20 people training together, and some tend to roll hard in each session. They see sparring as a competitive match they must win as if their life depends on it. If you stick with the classes long enough, you will spot these people and avoid rolling with them.
Instead, find partners you trust. People who prioritize safety and are extra careful not to put you in a dangerous position or might see trouble coming in advance. Also, be sure to roll with people your size most of the time and avoid putting extra pressure on your body.
Improve Strength And Conditioning
BJJ might look “soft” and playful at first glance. But wrestling and rolling on the mats require a high level of core and functional strength. You need strong and agile muscles to sustain the intense workouts and recover faster until the next session. Without improving strength for BJJ, your body will suffer in each training session until it finally breaks down.
A study confirms this, according to which strength training reduces injuries in BJJ by 66% and prevents overuse injuries by 50%. These numbers alone are enough to motivate you to start doing strength workouts.
Tap Out Without Hesitating
Not tapping out on time is, perhaps, the most common way people get hurt in BJJ. Whether it’s the lack of experience, self-awareness, or high ego, some people will try everything in their power to escape from the already well-placed submission. And this is the perfect recipe for disaster and severe injuries.
Trying to muscle your way out of the armbar or kimura can instantly result in torn ligaments, bone fracture, or shoulder dislocation, and the same stands for other locks, such as heel hooks.
Attempting the same while being caught in a chokehold usually results in you going to sleep. But due to the increased pressure on the neck, you can also easily damage the spinal cord and nerves.
Adopt Healthy Eating And Sleeping Habits
Consistent BJJ training puts a lot of stress on your body and burns energy at a high rate. Thus, to stay healthy and avoid injuries, consider adopting healthy eating habits. Eat well-balanced meals rich in proteins and healthy fats, and carbs. Instead of drinks full of sugar, start making healthy smoothies. A well-balanced smoothie can provide you with enough energy for the entire day.
The same stands for sleeping, the most critical aspect of recovery. Try to get to bed at the same time every night, and have eight hours of solid sleep.
BJJ is not a dangerous martial art. It certainly does not impose a greater risk of injuries than in other martial arts. There are safer options, such as Tai Chi or Aikido, but these systems are less effective than BJJ.
As with other sports activities, BJJ is not injury-free, so do not sign up for the classes thinking you won’t get hurt. Minor injuries related to hands, knees, and back are quite common, and according to studies presented in this article, there is a low chance you will suffer a severe injury such as a broken bone.
Ultimately, the safety of BJJ is based on many individual factors, such as your approach to training, risks you are willing to take, consistency, and time you spend recovering.