Tips for Overcoming BJJ Elbow Pain

Tips for Overcoming BJJ Elbow Pain

Sparring combat sports like UFC and MMA have seen increased popularity over the past few years. A major appeal of combat sports is the inclusion of grappling martial arts like Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ). In fact, Royce Gracie-- winner of UFC 1, 2, and 4--revolutionized mixed martial arts by incorporating BJJ into his fighting style. His form and success helped popularize BJJ as a training and sparring style within the sport.

Because BJJ is a combat sport, it carries a high potential for injury. Elbow pain is a common ailment that impacts BJJ grapplers. BJJ training and sparring can put a lot of stress on your elbow. Impacts and overuse of the elbow can lead to numbness, pain, swelling, and even injury.

Here, we’ll cover some of the most common causes of BJJ elbow pain, provide tips to avoid it, and outline ways you can treat it.

Common Causes of BJJ Elbow Pain

The elbow is a frequent focal point in BJJ training and sparring. Submission holds, armbars, takedowns, and transition moves all put the elbow at risk of injury. BJJ grappling puts heavy emphasis on grip. A tight grip on your opponent is often the first move in sparring. A tight grip can overwork the forearm muscles, leading to injury.

With so much stress placed on the elbow during BJJ training and sparring, it’s easy to see why elbow pain is such a common ailment for grapplers. Here are some of the most common elbow injuries:

  • Epicondylitis
  • Ligament strain
  • UCL sprain or tear
  • LCL sprain or tear
  • MCL sprain or tear
  • Tennis elbow
  • Hyperextension
  • Tendinitis
  • Bursitis

Elbow Injury Prevention

The best way to overcome BJJ elbow pain is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The best prevention for injury is to establish proper sparring and training techniques to ensure your elbow health is at its best. A strong, stable, rested elbow is more resilient and has a better chance at recovery after activity.

This includes proper joint movement, strength training, stretching and flexibility, the use of braces and compression sleeves, ice therapy, and rest days. Following proper training and sparring technique will help you avoid hyperextension and overuse injuries. Giving your body ample rest will ensure you minimize inflammation that can lead to more serious injury.

Treating Elbow Pain

Ensuring that your body and elbow are strong and stable can help you avoid injury. However, BJJ is a combat sport and you put yourself at risk every time you spar and train. If you do experience elbow pain, listen to your body and if necessary seek immediate medical attention.

Minor elbow pain can be treated at home, but more serious elbow injuries may require physical therapy, injections, or even surgery. Below, we’ll look at five tips to help you overcome BJJ elbow pain.

1. Rest

Your body is incredibly adept at healing itself—sometimes you just need to give it time to rest and heal. Mild elbow numbness or pain isn’t uncommon after heavy training or sparring. Give your elbow, and your body, some time to heal.

You should incorporate rest days as a part of your overall training regimen. Letting your body heal naturally before resuming activities gives you the best chance at limiting pain and injury and maintaining a strong, stable BJJ discipline.

2. Ice Therapy

Ice therapy is a cost-effective way to treat elbow pain, reduce swelling and inflammation, and encourage healing in your body. Ice therapy can be incorporated into your training regimen, as part of your rest process, or anytime you need a little relief.

Swelling and inflammation can irritate your muscles, ligaments, and tendons—leading to elbow pain or injury. Icing your joints after training or sparring can reduce inflammation and speed up the recovery process. You can use a specially made reusable ice pack or simply put ice in a plastic bag.

Ice therapy can be used anytime, but you should limit the time you apply ice to your elbow to around 20 minutes to ensure you don’t unintentionally damage your skin or nerves. Putting a towel between the ice pack and your skin will help minimize the risk of damage.

3. Wraps and Braces

Compression sleeve for BJJ elbow pain

Using a wrap or brace to train, protect, and heal your elbow is one of the most effective ways to treat BJJ elbow pain. That’s because there are such a wide variety of elbow braces, sleeves, and wraps available. Some utilize compression, some offer a hinged frame, and some use both.

With so many options available, you’re sure to find the right one to treat your specific issue. Compression sleeves offer localized compression and targeted pressure relief to minimize inflammation and swelling, decrease pain symptoms, and improve elbow function.

Braces with hinged frames offer greater healing and protection. These braces stabilize the joint to encourage healing and repair. They provide controlled immobilization to aid the healing process of sprains and strains. What’s more, they maintain proper positioning to comfortably facilitate healing.

4. Rehabilitation

Even minor injuries require rehabilitation. You don’t want to hurry back from an injury too early only to make it worse. Most rehab involves strength-training the injured area—since the elbow is a joint, you’ll need to focus on returning strength, flexibility, and stability to the joint by addressing the entire arm.

Strengthening the hand, forearm, bicep, tricep, shoulder, and pectoral area will help you recover from elbow pain associated with BJJ.

5. Adjust Your Sparring Style

If you’re experiencing pain in your elbow, your body is trying to tell you something. You may need to adjust your sparring or training style to avoid further injury. Using proper technique can help you encourage proper movement and avoid BJJ elbow pain.

Tapping out of armbars earlier can also help you avoid hyperextending your elbow. Emphasizing leg and core strength can also help you rely less on your arms, reducing the risk of injury to your elbow.

Overcome Elbow Pain

Elbow pain is a common ailment for BJJ grapplers. Following the five tips above will help you minimize the risk of elbow injury and get the most from your BJJ discipline.


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