Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a dangerous sport, and many injuries can happen during training or competition. But more insidious are the nasty germs and bacteria lurking in every gym’s warm and humid conditions. The most common among them is ringworm. But what is it?
Ringworm is a common skin infection characterized by a ring-shaped lesion that is red and itchy, with peeling skin on the edges. It transmits mainly through skin-to-skin contact, making it very common in sports like BJJ and wrestling.
Luckily, ringworm is treatable and preventable, but it should not be overlooked. It is a common condition in BJJ, and everyone must be educated to know what it is, how to treat it, and the best prevention methods.
Ringworm is a bacterial disease caused by a fungus, not a worm, as the name might make you think. The name comes from the shape of the rash, which looks like a ring with a raised, scaly border and is red and itchy. The medical terms for this common infection are “tinea” and “dermatophytosis.
Everyone can catch ringworm, as it’s easy to contract because the fungi causing the infection can live on many surfaces, including skin, hair, nails, and every spot in the gym.
The perfect conditions for the fungi are warm and moist areas, making them feel at home in a typical gym and the accompanying premises like the locker rooms, bathroom, and weight room, which are covered in sweat and perspiration.
You should also know that you can catch ringworm all over your body. Ringworm goes by different names depending on which body part it affects. Ringworm on your body is called tinea corporis. If it’s on the soles of the feet, it’s called Athlete’s foot, and the one on the groin is known as Jock itch.
It’s at least a small consolation that the scientists have named the condition in wrestlers, grapplers, and other close-contact athletes Tinea corporis gladiatorum, so we get the coolest name on the list.
Ringworm is highly contagious, and it transmits easily by contact with a surface or, in the common case with BJJ, with a person who has it. The nature of jiu-jitsu means that if even one person in the room has it, chances are that by the end of the session, at least half may have contracted it.
Sharing towels or other objects is another way of transmitting, but this is uncommon for BJJ practitioners. What is common, though, are the mats we all share, so even if you don’t roll with someone who has ringworm, you will roll on the same mat, meaning everyone is in danger.
It’s no wonder sports like BJJ and wrestling have the highest percentage of skin infections, and outbreaks in wrestling gyms have been frequently registered.
Ringworm is usually a minor condition, but it’s an unpleasant one. The easy transmission makes it a worry, and if you have doubts that you may have a skin infection, you should immediately stop training with partners.
But the lesions are usually discreet, especially in the beginning, and it’s easy to miss them before it’s too late. Here are the common symptoms and development of ringworm:
- Circular, ring-shaped scales or plaques.
- Flat patches with a raised, round border.
- Itchy and red skin.
- Hair loss or bald spots in the affected area.
An itchy papule or plaque is the first sign of the disease, which develops quickly into an annular ring lesion with distinct boundaries, known as a “ringworm.” The normal skin around the infection frequently becomes infected as well.
As the previously infected skin heals, plaque or scale forms around the edge of the lesion, giving it a recognizable ringworm appearance.
The degree of the inflammatory reaction varies depending on the type of infecting organism. Lesions are usually singular, but if left untreated, they may multiply into a few adjacent rings.
One thing is certain and common to all ringworms, regardless of their spot or severity: they itch a lot!
The good news is that most cases of ringworm are minor and can be treated easily with over-the-counter topical medication. The bad news is that as minor as they are, skin infections take a while to disappear.
Strong antifungal medications work best. Some of the more popular non-prescription ones are Lotrimin, Mycelex, and Lamisil.
If the infection is more serious or stubborn, some oral antifungal medication may be required, and you will need to visit the doctor for a prescription.
As I said, skin infections are often stubborn, so it may take a couple of weeks or even more for the lesions to disappear completely.
Also, follow your doctor’s advice or the medication description and apply it for as long as it is recommended, which sometimes means even after the symptoms have disappeared, to prevent a quick turnaround.
The hardest part of dealing with ringworm is staying off the mats for some time. Not training is a no-brainer when you have a serious injury or a health problem, but being off the mats due to an itch is not congruent with martial arts psychology. But it is something you must do for your own good and primarily for your training partners.
Just like with everything health-related, prevention is the best treatment. Unfortunately, ringworm often starts very small and is hard to notice. Combined with the insane rate of skin-to-skin transferability, catching it in time before it spreads to the entire gym is challenging.
Ringworm has been so common in wrestling that scientists gave the condition its own name (Tinea corporis gladiatorum). Be that as it may, the rate of skin-to-mat transmission is not clear and is likely small, leaving skin-to-skin contact as the main way ringworm spreads.
This is why personal hygiene is essential in ringworm prevention, general gym etiquette, and other more dangerous skin infections like staph. I am sure this advice is common sense for everyone, but it is worth repeating nonetheless.
- Shower as soon as possible after each session
- Use antibacterial soap and shampoo
- Wash your gi, rash guard, shorts, and spats as soon as possible after training.
- Never wear unwashed attire in training.
Keeping the entire gym in pristine condition is a must. Regular cleaning and disinfection is essential, and while it’s up to the instructor to organize this, you can at least make a remark if the overall hygiene is inadequate.
Ringworm is a treatable but annoying skin infection that can keep people off the mats for some time or even force a brief gym closure in extreme cases. A fungus causes it, and the symptoms are usually expressed in a round ring-like lesion.
While usually not a serious condition, it can be irritating and worsen if left untreated. The best action is immediate treatment with topical medication like Lamisil and, if the problem is more serious, with prescription antifungal pills.
And because ringworm transmits primarily through skin-to-skin contact, immediately stop training after you discover the condition to spare your training partner’s trouble. Maintain good personal hygiene, and chances of spreading ringworm decrease drastically.