Congratulations, you’ve sustained your first injury in BJJ. You’re forty nine, you’ve been doing Jiu Jitsu for three months and by nothing short of a miracle you’ve just now dinged yourself up but good.
As a fellow idiot I’d like to impart some advice. Stay off the mat! In the few years I’ve been doing BJJ I have sustained the following injuries:
1) Two sprained wrists, both left and right, so a matching set.
2) Bruised ribs, multiple, on both sides.
3) Had a rib pop out...not fun...less fun popping it back in.
4) Sprained my left shoulder twice.
5) Sprained my right shoulder three times.
6) Broken pinky toe. Okay in all honesty that one healed sideways and is disturbingly cool looking now. So I’m actually pretty proud of that one.
7) Numerous black eyes, bloody noses and fat lips.
There are more but honestly those are just the ones I remember off hand.
Each time I got injured I did not wait, I did not follow the advice of the doctor or urgent care nurse and went back too early, and every time I made it worse. I am a BJJ addict.
With each injury I told myself I’d roll light, or just drill or the always useless I just won't use my shoulder, or foot, or wrist or knee or left eyelid or whatever body part I think I won’t need in order to do BJJ. The problem being that we use every muscle and joint when doing BJJ and that will just make the injury worse.
If you have a black eye, you can roll, that’s not the problem. but for some reason your now a magnet for someone's elbow or knee! WHY??
It was my third right shoulder sprain that finally taught me the lesson of just waiting. For personal reasons, narcotics or pain meds are out of the question for me. I told myself I just needed to rest and I’ll be back on the mat. Every time I injured myself before, the pain subsided after a few days, so this would too. But it didn’t, it actually got worse. I popped Advil like candy and it wasn’t even making a dent in the discomfort and pain.
I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat and I definitely couldn’t concentrate. After nine days, I ended up in the emergency room on a Sunday afternoon.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of being aggressively lectured to by a doctor half your age while someone on the bed next to you is literally just repeating the words “kill me” over and over again, but it’s a unique experience.
He showed me my x-ray and pointed out how all of the scar tissue from the previous injuries I hadn’t let heal properly had now formed a nice little shell, which supposedly is what made the pain so bad this time.
He said, “You can’t do karate for at least a month.”
I let the karate thing slide and said, “Well I got injured ten days ago, so like three weeks really right?”
I won’t get into the lecture verbatim, but suffice it to say this young whipper snapper had no respect for his elders. However he did let me know with no doubt that the next time I injured my shoulder badly it would most likely lead to replacement surgery.
“The good news,” He said, “Is you get a brand new shoulder. The bad news is you won’t be able to do your ridiculous kung fu for maybe a year.”
It did not feel like this was the appropriate time to point out that I did not do kung fu so I simply nodded my head in solemn agreement.
Over the following week I tried to run but every time my feet made contact with the ground it shot pain through my shoulder. I tried to ride the stationary bike but of course I would end up putting pressure on my shoulder and that wasn’t good either. I couldn’t run, bike, lift or even do more than walk and very light stretching.
I was honked up big time and all in all I wasn’t back on the mat for six weeks.
But the lesson was learned. It doesn’t matter what your injury is and of course when you decide to go back is up to you, but listen to your body. Jiu Jitsu is not going anywhere, it’ll be there waiting to hurt you again whenever you return.
If you have thoughts along the lines of “good enough”, “I just won’t use x” or “I can power through it” you’re not ready to go back.
This is not your job. This is a hobby. You’re not going to Fight Island, you’re not going to compete in Abu Dhabi. You’re a white belt in your late forties or fifties, sit your dumb ass down and watch the Great British Bake Off for a few weeks. Stare longingly at your gis, cuddle with your belt at night and whisper soothing things like “soon my pet, soon” then once you wake up with absolutely no pain, on that day, hit the mats.
But for God sake take it easy, tell everyone multiple times until their eyes won’t stop rolling sideways that you’re coming off an injury and can’t roll or drill heavy. They will bust your chops, but they will also be careful to avoid the freshly healed (probably still healing) body part.
Avoid new students, especially young new students and those who you know are spazzy or just straight up stupid for your first week back.
Tap early, tap often is my new motto. If I feel my right shoulder being put in a weird position I tap. I don’t wait to feel discomfort or pain, I’ve got nothing to prove...except to that mouthy young doctor in the ER who thinks he can boss me around.
Screw that kid. He doesn't train so how the hell would he know what its like.
I want to avoid replacement surgery for forever if possible, or at least forestall it for as long as possible. I also want to keep rolling for the rest of my life, two weeks to a month off the mat is a small price to pay for that.
I hope this little bit of insight helped in some way....
Jonathan Latt (bjj addict)