Arthritis and Brazilian Jiujitsu

We often document the benefits of Brazilian jiujitsu, but murmur in mention of some of the draw backs. While all sports carry risk of injury and overuse injuries, Brazilian jiujitsu in particular is known to be rough on the joints and I have heard much anecdotal evidence of finger and pain in particular in more experianced players.

All that gripping,pulling wrenching, grabbing, throwing has to start somewhere
What is Arthritis

People are often confused as to the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The difference mainly being one is wear and tear the other is a auto immune disease.

Osteoarthritis (also referred to as degenerative joint disease or wear-and-tear arthritis) is caused by the breakdown of joint cartilage. Cartilage acts as a cushion between the bones that form a joint. Cartilage loss can cause bone to rub on bone in a joint — a condition that is very painful. The ride along of this condition can be bone spurs, bony enlargements (Heberden’s nodes and Bouchard’s nodes). This is related to but not caused by aging. It appears that mechanical stress on joints underlies all osteoarthritis, with many and varied sources of mechanical stress, including misalignments of bones caused by congenital or pathogenic causes; mechanical injury all contribute to the condition. Oh and cracking you knuckles has no effect!

So I used to be a hand model

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory type of arthritis. It is also classified as an autoimmune disease (i.e., immune cells attack the body’s own healthy tissues). The synovium (lining of the joint) is primarily affected by rheumatoid arthritis, but organs body-wide can be affected as well. Multiple joints are usually involved with rheumatoid arthritis.

Incidence in Jiujitsu
Speak to more senior members of school or gym and more than likely they will have stories pertaining to hand injuries, joint pain, mangled finger/toes, dislocations and more. Very little research has been done into BJJ and arthritis so numbers are hard to fathom. But BJJ’s nearest relative Judo has had plenty of research into the subject. In 1997 Strasser P et al did a study into

“Traumatic finger polyarthrosis in judo athletes”  the found that “Extensive Judo seems to be a risk factor for the development of osteoarthritis of the finger joints due to chronic-repetitive micro- and substantial (macro-) injury.”

In 1984 Frey A, Müller W. found that “X-ray showed that all judokas examined have more or less severe osteoarthritis of the distal interphalangeal joints (DIP), whether Heberden nodes were present or not. At the same time, in most cases osteoarthrosis of the proximal interphalangeal joints (PIP) was found by X-ray and clinical examination. Osteoarthrosis of DIP and PIP in this young age group is due to overstress and injury to the joints involved.” It is the repeat injury, re-injury, micro trauma and over stress over a period of time that appears to accumulate and then manifest as arthritis. More than likely athletes who play a grip heavy game see a high incidence than those who don’t.

Those who play a heavy grip game risk injury of Proximal and Intermediate  Phalanges

Mitigation and treatment
Practical solutions to limiting and preventing arthritis are few in number, the ultimate solution being suspension of the activity but seriously when has injury ever stopped you grappling? So you have a few choices.
  • Introduce more no-gi training in order to give your grip a rest
  • Cycle play styles, avoid spider and other grip play that is rough on the distal and intermediate phalanges.
  • Stronger muscles can help stabilize the joint, improving range of motion and aid in pain reduction. That’s the goal of arthritis-oriented physical therapy, just be sure to work extensor and thumb strength too, as finger flexion is often over worked.
  • Some evidence suggests that hand flexibility may reduce arthritis risk http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15248215
  • Taking NSAIDS (ibuprofen etc)
  • Some evidence suggests people with arthritis need longer warm-ups

Supplementary Solutions

As soon as joint pain is mention people are quick to ask for supplementation, often supplement seller pray on those in discomfort to shift shoddy produce or gimmicky devices.


Worth Trying (evidence for):

Maybe Worth trying (some evdience or good anecdotal evidence)

Best avoid (No evidence)

  • Powerbands and Magnet therapy research has shown that magnetic wrist straps are ineffective in the management of pain, stiffness and physical function in osteoarthritis
  • Glucosamine and or Chondroitin – A meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal published in 2010 concluded: “Compared with placebo, glucosamine, chondroitin, and their combination do not reduce joint pain or have an impact on narrowing of joint space. Health authorities and health insurers should not cover the costs of these preparations, and new prescriptions to patients who have not received treatment should be discouraged.”

Im super picky where I get my supplements from with alot of places price gouging and selling poor quality products I recommend buying from www.jgsupplements.com for niche products at low prices or www.myprotein.com for bulk buying

I hope that this has been a helpful insight into a fairly common issues, more than any other sport BJJ and our grappling brethern are at risk of can be a painful and in the long term debilitating condition. If you have stories of joint pain or treatments you perhaps have found effective please fell free to share them in the comments section.

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5 thoughts on “Arthritis and Brazilian Jiujitsu”

  1. I most definitely agree that stress on the joints doing BJJ is a major issue. Personally I strap my finger joints for support. I also ensure I train my grip. Stronger hands make for less injuries.

    Taking Omega Fish Oils, and a clean diet with adequate protein and nutrients. Water, stay hydrated. Lastly, if my hands hurt after training, I alternate ice/heat treatments. Prevention is Always better than a cure.

    Another issue is the type of grip used during grappling. Inserting your fingers into a gi sleeve and grabbing makes for sore fingers, Grabbing the excess material with your whole hand makes for a better grip and puts less pressure on your hands.

  2. I have been doing BJJ for a year. I just notice that I am getting bone spurs on my hand. It doesn't hurt. However, I noticed that my hands are starting to get stiff. When I stretch it tend to go away. I don't want to stop my sport because I love it. So I am going to try the fatty acid and not try to develop my spider guard game. LOL Thank you this has helped and been a big relief off my mind that someone else is gong through it. 🙂

  3. Hi man,

    I have also experienced these horrible symptoms and I have found out that ice helps when it really starts to hurt (specially in the beginning).

    To treat it, I have also made use of ultrasound waves (seek for physical therapist assistance – as it can damage even more your cartilages/fingers).

    To prevent future pain, strengthen your fingers with a tennis ball and stretches.

    Once I read that "your grip is as strong as your weakest link" and it is true! If your hand is your weakest link, that's where it will give away (therefore, that's where it's gonna hurt).

    Take care!
    Rod

  4. Hey there, Thanks so much for the article. After I started getting joint pain I found your article and then I did a little research myself. If you have a good look into Glucosamine then there is medical evidence to suggest that it does relieve pain and symptoms of mild to moderate osteoathritis compared to a placebo. The study you quote (The extended GAIT study)uses Glucosamine hydrochloride, which is a vegetarian version. However, the studies with evidence to possibly support Glucosamine use are using the animal derivative version which is the more commonly used Glucosamine Sulphate.

    MSM is also reported as helping with sypmtoms but I havent fully looked into that yet regarding solid evidence for support of use (most seem to suggest it is helpful but are unsure of the dosages needed)

  5. Hi man,

    I have also experienced these horrible symptoms and I have found out that ice helps when it really starts to hurt (specially in the beginning).

    To treat it, I have also made use of ultrasound waves (seek for physical therapist assistance – as it can damage even more your cartilages/fingers).

    To prevent future pain, strengthen your fingers with a tennis ball and stretches.

    Once I read that "your grip is as strong as your weakest link" and it is true! If your hand is your weakest link, that's where it will give away (therefore, that's where it's gonna hurt).

    Take care!
    Rod

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