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How to Rehab a Martial Arts injury?

By December 15, 2022April 24th, 2023Adam Horwitz, Exercise, Shoulder Pain

It sucks getting injured. It doesn’t matter what sport you do, it is always a difficult balance to participate in effective rehab while maintaining your activity.

Rehab a Martial ArtsAthletes who are passionate about their sport will always want to maintain as much of their previous intensity and training volume as possible when they get injured. I have found this to be particularly true for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) players or any other martial artist. I train BJJ myself and can attest to this.

BJJ is unique in that you are typically learning something new, either a new technique or new detail in every single session no matter if you are a white belt or a black belt. This is part of what makes the discipline especially addictive and fun! However, this also means you can experience serious FOMO when you are out with an injury. When you are sitting on the sideline or your couch at home watching grappling youtube videos and feeling a massive adrenaline dump all you want to do is jump on the mat and start rolling.


I want to provide some tips regarding injury prevention and management for BJJ. Some of these are from a professional point of view and some are just my personal opinion:

    1. TAP – coming from a Physio who loves to train and wants to train into the foreseeable future, tapping early is important. There will be people who disagree. Players who are very competitive or those who have not yet learned to tame their ego may not appreciate this. Unfortunately, they are the ones that are less likely to have a long, fun, enjoyable life of BJJ. If you want to go for glory, be all sprint and aggression, that is fine but bear in mind your longevity in the sport may be compromised. Tap to roll another day.I should note that ego is normal. It is inevitable. Taming the ego, is the martial artists life long internal struggle.
    2. FUN – training to have fun will allow you to learn with less anxiety. Training to have fun will reduce your resistance to tapping. It will increase your creativity and you will discover more about your skills, your game, your personality. You will discover new positions, styles and techniques. You will flow better and this will help to protect your joints and keep you engaged in the sport.
    3. STRENGTH – Strength training is a missing link in a lot of martial artists routine. Strength training will of course improve your game, but it will also significantly reduce your risk of injury. It will strengthen your muscles, tendons, cartilage, ligaments and mind. It will prime your nervous system, increasing the neural drive to your muscles and it will make your mind and body tougher and more resilient. The more strength and muscle mass you can acquire in the first 3 to 4 decades of life the better your body will age. Developing healthy strength training habits will reduce your risk of osteoporosis (low bone density) and sarcopenia (reduced muscle mass and strength) as you get older. It will also give you an activity that is easily modifiable to keep you training through ANY injury.
    4. COMMUNICATION – Communicating with your team, particularly your Physio and your Instructor, is vital to keep yourself moving and sane. Even if your Physio does not train martial arts, you should have a discussion regarding the movements, techniques, intensities and style of training that you are involved with to determine what you can or can’t do while recovering from an injury and to understand the rehab process so you and your Physio understand what goals should be set and to what level you need to achieve in your rehab.
      Instead of ghosting from your gym/academy/dojo, contact your instructor/s and see if they have solutions to help you to remain engaged. Sometimes they will allow you to attend and watch if you can’t train. Sometimes they may suggest training with someone else who is taking it easy or who they know will look after you or advise you to do some light training or flow rolling. It is in these challenges where opportunity arises. You will find that you can expand your horizons and focus on other aspects of your training.The last part of this is communication with your training partners. People struggle with this one a lot but it is very important because a lot of injuries can be trained through if you are open with your partners. Just say to them, “hey, I have a dodgy neck, please look out for it” or “hey man, could you please just look out for my right elbow as I am currently rehabbing an injury” etc etc.
    5. PSYCHOLOGY – the social and psychological impact of an injury is hugely important. A sport like BJJ comes with a social circle, a community of like minded crazy people who like to roll around on the floor and choke each other for fun. If you suddenly are unable to do this it can open up a void in your life and you may feel empty or abandoned. If you are unable to train at all on the mats due to an injury I highly suggest doing your best to attend classes to watch and maintain contact with your training partners and instructors or attend social events if they come up. Doing effective rehab will help to phase you back into the intensity of training and prime your nervous system to be locked and loaded for a safe return to full intensity training.

These are just a few ideas to ruminate on. Injuries are inevitable but it is up to you to maintain your physical and mental resilience while working through an injury. Allow yourself to grieve the injury, and then find the strength to rise up and continue on.



Author – Profile Mona Vale Adam HorwitzAdam Horwitz (Mona Vale)

Adam is interested in holistically treating neck pain, headaches and migraines. He likes to use manual therapy in combination with strength training to address any deficits that may be contributing to injury risk or causing a person’s pain.

Adam likes going go to the gym and training in Brazilian Ju-jitsu. From these he has a deep understanding of gym-based activities like weightlifting and crossfit as well as martial arts in general.

Click here to learn more about Adam.