Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Actually Dangerous? (Find Out!)

All martial arts carry a certain amount of risk, but certain martial arts injury risks are way higher than others. Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) one of these martial arts? I used my own experience and researched the internet to find out.

Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Dangerous?

When researchers from the University of Hawaii studied statewide Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions between 2005 and 2011 they found that injuries occurred in less than 1% of the BJJ matches making it significantly safer than Judo, Taekwondo, wrestling and MMA. Of the combat sports, BJJ is one of the least dangerous to participate in.

According to the same study, the most common injuries were to the elbows and knees, with the arm bar being the move that caused the most injuries to fighters. In fact, elbow sprains were the most common injury in the study.

How Dangerous Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

In this study mentioned above, only 46 out of 5022 BJJ practitioners got injured in a competition which is only 0.83 percent! Remember in competition injuries are more likely to happen as people train harder and don’t tap (give up) as much as in the gym.

However, the real answer on if Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is dangerous is more complicated than these statistics. I broke my first bone (rib) during Jiu-Jitsu drilling and injuries still happen in Jiu-Jitsu but not as much as you might think.

If you looking to learn a combat sport BJJ, is probably your safest bet according to the study above. But why is this? Unlike striking arts like Muay Thai, BJJ usually does not have striking. To see how dangerous the most effective striking art, Muay Thai can be, check out my post here.

No one is trying to repeatedly punch you in the face in BJJ, which helps reduce injury rate. In a study spanning 6 years, MMA (mixed martial arts) had by far the highest rate of injury in competitions with 236 injuries per 1,000 matches observed.

As MMA contains both striking and grappling the risk of injury is far higher as most injuries in grappling happen via takedowns.

Even Judo, Jiu-Jitsu’s sister martial art, had more injury rates than BJJ in competition at 25.2 to 130.6 injuries per 1000 athletes.

Judo relies a lot on throwing techniques that carry their own risks. If you’re interested in training Judo and Jiu-Jitsu at the same time, check out my post here regarding just that.

So what does this all mean? As a new Jiu-Jitsu fighter are you likely to get injured or break any bones? Well, it depends. Remember all these studies took place in a competition where the adrenaline is running high blood is pumping and people are putting all their effort into winning at all costs.

You are WAY more likely to get injured in a competition that in your gym, and your opponent is far less likely to tap in a competition than at your local gym.

As a new student, you will focus on using proper technique and improving your conditioning. You only spar when you feel ready and will more than likely be partnered up with an experienced partner making the injury rates very very low.

What Are The Most Common Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Injuries?

Type Of Injury & Percentage Of Total Injuries NumberTotal Injuries Number Of Injuries
Head & Face (6.6%) Concussion (3) Eye Injury(1) Black Eye(13) Cauliflower Ear(11) Borken Tooth(1) Othe (1) Other (1)32
Neck (4.3%) Muscle Injury (5) Disc Injury (4) Ligament/tendon strain (2) Vertebral fracture (1) Trachea injury (0 Cervical Pain (9)21
Back (8.8 %) Disc Injury(5) Muscle spasms(3) Other (3) Muscle injury (2) Vertebral fracture (1) Spondylolysis (1) Lower Back Pain (13) Muscle spasms (9) Upper Back Pain (6)43
Torso (5.5%) Fractured Ribs (6) Other (4) Chest Pain (13) Abdominal Pain (326
Shoulder (8.4%) Rotator cuff injury (7) AC joint separation (3) Dislocation (3) Other (2) Labrum tear (1) Shoulder Pain (25)41
Elbow (10.5%) Elbow hyperextension (4) Arm/forearm muscle (2) Strain/sprain (2) Elbow fracture (1) Bone fracture (1) Ligament/tendon tear (1) dislocation (0) Hyperextension (26) Elbow pain (12) Arm/forearm pain (2)41
Wrist (1.8%) Bone fracture (1) Sprain/strain (1) Wrist pain (7)9
Hand & Finger (14.4%) Jammed finger (1) Other (4) Bone fracture (3) Finger hyperextension (2) Dislocated finger (1) Jammed finger (28) Finger hyperextension (22) Finger pain (6)67
Hip and Groin (3.1%) Other (1) Hip Pain(8) Groin Pain (6)
Leg & Gluteal (2.3%) Quad/hamstring injury (2) Bone fracture (1) Calf injury (1) Glute injury (1) Leg pain (5) glute pain (1)11
Knee (9.2%) Meniscus tear (12) Ligament/tendon tear (7) Knee sprain/sprain (5) Patella dislocation (1) Other (1) Knee Pain(19)44
Ankle (6.2%) Sprain (4) Bone fracture (2) Ligament/tendon tear(1) Sprain (22) Ankle pain (1)30
Foot & Toes (10.7%) Bone fracture (7) Turf toe (2) Toe dislocation(2) Lisfranc injury (1) Toe hyperextension (1) other(1)14
Skin (8.2%) Laceration requiring stitches (2) Folliculitis (2) Impetigo (3) Cellulitis (1) staph infection (5) Molluscum contagiosum (3) Verrucae (3) ringworm (15) 31

The average BJJ athlete will spend four days per week training, but will only compete in two tournaments per year according to this study. The study sent a questionnaire to 166 BJJ gyms across the United States to analyze common injuries in BJJ and those were their findings.

Lower Back Injuries

Lower back injuries are very common in Jiu-Jitsu and happen whenever a position causes a back to hyperextend, like when someone is trying to pass your guard, or trying to escape a position by bridging.

Remember you have to identify if it’s a disc or a muscle injury, by consulting a doctor. To see how to fix lower back pain and more information on what causes it, check out my post here

How to prevent it. Avoid positions where you don’t control the flexing or bending of your spine, like being in closed guard or at the bottom of back mount, and train with someone who has good control of their body.

Neck Injuries

Neck injuries happen when someone is cranking down on your neck and forcing it in an unnatural position.

When defending an uncomfortable neck position, treat it like a real choke as neck injuries are no joke. If you have neck pain, make sure to consult your doctor before you continue to train.

How to prevent it. Avoid positions where someone is grabbing your head, like on the top of closed guard, or the bottom of half guard. Don’t use your head as a basing point and tap out early to neck cranks.

Knee Injuries

Knee injuries happen when you lock someone’s feet in half guard, known as lockdown, and you or your partner’s knee gets twisted in a bad position. If you hear a pop then it might be a full or partial tear.

I can’t imagine how painful a knee injury would be. Jiu-Jitsu is very hard on your knees, to see how you can deal with knee problems or if BJJ is even possible with bad knees, check out my post here.

How to deal with it. Unlike arm bars which hurt (I’ve been there!), leg locks don’t, so if you feel you can’t move always tap early. To train with a knee injury, tape your knees and just work on your safe hands.

You won’t be able to do much offensively, but your defense will drastically improve!

Shoulder Injuries

Shoulder injuries happen mostly during arm locks, reaching too far after a failed takedown and not keeping your elbows super tight or overextending when balancing yourself.

Like neck and lower back injuries, make sure to consult with a physician before you continue to train. Shoulder rehab is a long process and getting good quality rehab equipment is key. Get an 11 piece premium tribe resistant band set for all your shoulder rehabilitation needs. Click here to see it on Amazon.

How to deal with it. You can tape the affected shoulder as shown in the video. Now to prevent it, keep your elbows tight at all times and never overextend the shoulder joint as the rotator cuff can easily get injured.

Cauliflower Ear

Have you seen wrestlers with ears that look like galaxies? As wrestlers are aggressive, and have that go go go attitude, they tend to lead with their head too much and can really mess up their ears in the process.

How to deal with it. The best way to prevent cauliflower ear is to wear an ear protector. I own the Cliff Fusion headgear and wear it for every roll. Click here to check it out on Amazon.

Remember ear guards are to prevent inflammation, not for treating it! Once your ear is inflamed, avoid rolling and wait for it to heal. You can train as long as nothing is touching your head.

Skin Infections

The most common Jiu-Jitsu skin infection is ringworm which is a fungal infection caused by mold-like parasites that live on the cells in your skin. Sounds disgusting right?

Even in a clean gym, ring worm can spread with direct skin to skin contact with an infected person. In Jiu-Jitsu it is important to wear a rash guard (like this one on Amazon) to protect against these diseases.

How to deal with it. If you have or see anyone with ANY sort of weird looking spot or itch that won’t go away, tell your instructor or go to the Doctor and get checked out. Skin infections can be serious and so it is important to take proper precautions as to not get infected.

Ego Injuries

Most injuries in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are caused by big egos. Either you don’t want to get tapped so you will resist in a hopeless situation causing injury to yourself or YOU will injure the other person as you want to tap them more than keeping them safe.

Unlike other injuries ego injuries leave no marks, so always treat your training partners how you would like to be treated. Tap early whenever you’re in a bad spot. This is not a title fight here.

Check out the video below for even more info on common BJJ injuries.

Has Anyone Died Doing Jiu-Jitsu?

A Jiu-Jitsu practitioner died in Brasilia Brazil after suffering a concussion from a rear-naked choke on the 21st of September 2015. He was taken to the hospital two days after the choke and did not receive care as his condition was not serious. He died a few days later.

However, I think his death was due to the medical negligence of the hospital rather than the rear-naked choke. His sister Maria Alves relayed the following statement to O Globo, a Brazilian newspaper.

“On Wednesday we went to the hospital and were asked to come back another day because it wasn’t an emergency. On Thursday, we tried to go to an orthopedist because of severe headaches and they referred us to a general practitioner, who requested an examination of the skull and ruled out a serious condition. On Saturday we went back to the hospital because he was feeling ill and that day he had a stroke in Radiology. He was taken to the emergency room and then the doctors said that the case was not serious and we had to wait an hour and 40 minutes to be treated”

Maria Alves said

Chokes can cause temporary loss of consciousness, which can make you feel dizzy. At that point, you tap, no questions asked. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the common chokes are the rear-naked arm, guillotine, and triangle choke.

Strangely, what causes the loss of consciousness is still debated. One theory is being choked results in indirectly stopping blood flow to the brain. Another says it is compression of the receptors of the carotid artery causing the brain to think blood pressure has risen which causes the blackout.

Another theory is when pressure is applied to the carotid artery (neck blood vessels) these send a signal to the brain via the glossopharyngeal nerve[5] and the heart via the vagus nerve, this tells the heart to reduce the amount of blood per heartbeat, usually be a third, to relieve high blood pressure.

However several studies have shown that after being choked out an ECG (heart rate machine) will be flat for at least a few seconds. For half of the subjects in this study, the results showed that choking even way before the 4-minute mark might not be as safe as once thought.

After 4 to 6 minutes of restricting oxygen permanent brain damage will begin to occur; however, chokes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are way shorter around, between 1 and 20 seconds before a tap happens.

Judo and Jiu-Jitsu have been around a long time and countless chokes have been applied in competition with no true reported deaths from chokes. The Brazilian fighter mentioned above probably died due to medical negligence rather than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The best thing you can do is to tap early if you feel you are in a losing position and to seek medical attention if you feel like you suffered an injury while training.

In the end, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of the safest combat sports. As with any sport, just be smart about what you are doing and you will have nothing to worry about.

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