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Injury treatment and prevention guidance with Bexar Athletic Training owner, Dr. Spraggins.

Jiu Jitsu Elbow

Updated: May 12, 2023

Studies indicate that roughly 67% of BJJ practitioners will incur at least one injury that results in significant time off from training. Another study indicates that 1 out of 5 will consider discontinuing BJJ because of injury. A very high percentage of injury in BJJ is orthopedic in nature, with a large percentage of that occurring at the elbow.

The elbow is probably one of them most common injured joints in BJJ. This may be due to the prevalence and ease of the arm bar technique. The most common injury is a sprain of the Ulnar collateral ligament or UCL on the inside of the elbow.

This ligament is often injured in other sports such as baseball where high load and high volume of overhead throwing motions are involved. The UCL is a band of ligaments that connects the inside of your upper arm (humerus) to the inside of your forearm (ulna) and helps support and stabilize your arm. While we commonly associate the biceps and triceps as primary movers for elbow flexion and extension, an injury to the UCL can also negatively affect things below the joint. Things such as grip strength and the ability to both flex and extend the wrist with any real power will likely be affected with a UCL injury.

Learn more about UCL injury here.

Primary prevention strategies

While one strategy to prevent this injury might be simply to not get caught in that pesky kimora as often (every white belt just sighed, and your professor laughed). Another more active approach is also easy to achieve. Strengthening the muscles around the joint that enact on it and stabilize it will be a good solution as well. Another good solution is to engage in a good warm up (no offense purple belts). Below are some links to some of my favorite exercises to strengthen the joint and some of my favorite warm up exercises as well. Our Gi game spends a lot of time using or flexing muscles to maintain a grip placing stress on the under utilized extensors that aid in control. This makes strengthening the extensors a key factor in building bullet proof elbows.

Watch this video about Bullet Proof Elbows.

Bullet Proof Elbows

Secondary Strategies

If you are already dealing with medial elbow pain and are concerned about the state of your UCL then I would like to share with you some strategies to get it under control. First, I want to acknowledge that I often refer to the UCL injury as a pride injury on the mats. I say this because this is a ligament that will often warn you that it is unhappy for some time before it gets to the point of needing surgery. At least in the case of BJJ, maybe not in football. The common stressors on the UCL for BJJ are the armbar, falling on outstretched hand (FOOSH) or overuse/over training. One of the easiest ways you can save your UCL, elbow and your BJJ career is to acknowledge the submission and tap when you KNOW you should.

Dr Spraggins testing a fellow competitor's elbow strength. 2022

Self-assessment isn’t a simple litmus test. However, if you have ever felt a pull or pop along the medial (or inside) elbow during training follow by pain on the inside especially when pushing, grip, or throwing overhead, you may have encountered a small tear at the UCL. This may present in times that stress is delivered from the outside aspect of the elbow inward, such as when attempting a knee slide, or blocking that knee shield entry. Another time you may feel the elbow pain could be during sprawls o

r sit out drills. If you notice any tingling or numbness during drilling or live rolls its possible you have irritation causing inflammation in the region.

Tertiary prevention strategies.

If you are already experiencing this pain, and the movements described below make things worse. If your regular routine of pain management isn’t cutting it, you may have a tear. It is advisable to rest and seek medical care. You can schedule and evaluation, in person or virtual with myself to rule out a tear or determine the severity of your situation. Tommy John Surgery for reconstruction or repair of the ligament is often where these cases end up, but not every tear requires surgery. I have had a great deal of success with both dry needle and decompression in this region to reduce pain and allow the time to build a bulletproof elbow. Each case is different, so get a start on solving your case by seeking medical care today.

Jarod Spraggins DAT LAT ATC

Bexar Athletic Training


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