The Aches and the Pains

The Aches and the Pains

The first few months of my jiu jitsu training had me falling into my bed at night like a shattered vase and waking up every morning, moving like a marionette, until all my muscles warmed up. Nothing has made me feel more my age than hitting the mat. Repeatedly. 

The good news is the more you practice, the less you hurt. Or, maybe it's just the more you practice, the more you get used to the pain? Either way, it's not as bad anymore. My aches and pains are background noise at this point, as long as I am consistently training.

BJJ, like most athletic endeavors, comes with a price: Bruises, strains, abrasions, and a lot of muscle soreness. Grappling is not a sport without risk, but I do have some advice on lessening that risk and things to have on hand if you snap yourself up. 

An Ounce of Prevention

Step one to alleviating pain is to stop it before it starts. One of the best things you can do is stretch. Open up your hips, loosen up your hamstrings, warm up your back and neck, especially, so your spine becomes more pliable and less rigid. Honestly, I need to make stretching a priority this year, as lifting tends to make me tight. It's good to hold a stretch for at least 20-30 seconds, release, then return to it, a little deeper, for another 20-30 seconds. Adding some yoga to your day couldn't hurt and it will help your guard game and triangle setup.

And don't skip warmups and drills, either. This will help you loosen up before sparring and prevent your muscles from snapping up like taught guitar strings. 

Professor Suyan Queiroz using the foam roller at First BJJ. 

Professor Suyan Queiroz using the foam roller at First BJJ. 

Minor Snaps

Pulled muscles, scrapes and bruises are usually minor and can be worked around. Some of my go-to pain remedies are: 

Heat Pack: One of my favorite heat packs is The Bed Buddy. It microwaves in 2 minutes and stays hot for a long time. It has handles and wraps to conform to just about any part of your body. Use a heat pack for tight muscles and pinched nerves. Heat is good for loosening things up.

Ice Pack: On the other hand, if you strained a tendon or a ligament, hurt a joint, or if something has swelled, you want ice instead of heat. There are all kinds of ice packs out there. We use the old fashioned kind. No leaks, no condensation, and it sort of sits on and conforms to your injured bit, whatever it may be. 

Anti-Inflammatories: Advil, Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Aleve  are all considered NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and help not only to relieve pain, but reduce any swelling as well. So they're good for any sprain, strain or snap, for the first few days.

Sport Cream: IcyHot, Tiger Balm, Ben Gay, etc. These are topical pain medications that produce hot and cold sensations to interfere with your body's pain pathways. Basically, it gives your body a different sensation to focus on instead of the pain. Some of them contain a topical aspirin type medication, too. These are nice for temporary relief. Not to be used excessively, only for a day or two.  

Foam Roller/Massage Balls: Once you are training often, investing in a foam roller and some massage balls might be a good idea. Personally, I use the massage balls, not the roller. They are very versatile and you can even use tennis balls in a sock, if you have those items lying around. That tip was given to me by a friend who gets migraines when her upper back gets knotty. If she loosens up her back muscles, it relieves the migraine. 

Tape: At a point, tape becomes essential. I'm not talking about kinesiology tape, the kind of woo woo strips you see all over the bodies at the Crossfit Games - I am talking about straight up athletic tape. Not only does it cover and protect abrasions and mat burn and keep cuts from bleeding onto the mat, it is excellent for finger support. Gripping collars and sleeves puts a surprising amount of stress on your finger joints. You will wake up in the morning feeling like your hands were beaten with a hammer. Taping them for support will help alleviate some of the discomfort and keep your grip strong. 

Epsom Salts: When you've exhausted everything else, or are just exhausted, take a hot bath in Epsom Salts. It soothes and relaxes your muscles, while providing some magnesium and sulfate absorption through the skin, minerals vital to body functions and helpful in recovery. 

Major Snaps

Muscle tears, moderate to severe sprains, bruised ribs and back injuries are not to be messed with. These kinds of injuries usually result from sparring too hard, trying some ambitious move from YouTube, or going all Beastly McSpazatron at competition. It's not always anyone's fault, but it happens. 

Unfortunately, this means time off the mat and some element of physical therapy. If you are snapped the fuck up in a major way, go to your doctor get proper treatment. If you can get a physical therapist involved, do it. They will give you mobility exercises that are CRUCIAL to recovery. You will come back much healthier if you do your mobility work than if you do not. 

Another great therapy is massage. In fact, it is one of the only proven methods of relieving muscle pain, besides medicine. Acupuncture and essential oils, crystals and "energy healing" amount to expensive bullshit with a possible side of placebo effect. But, massage therapy actually has evidence to back it up. It keeps you loose and relieves pain and tension. If you can spring for it, definitely spend your money on something that works. 

Other than that, you may just have to take time off to heal and that can be incredibly frustrating. As soon as you are able, coming for drills and sitting out for sparring is always an option. It will keep you fresh on your moves, but it shouldn't challenge your injury. Don't push it, or you'll be out twice as long.

Good luck, now go train with less pain!