Jiu-jitsu, or any martial art for that matter, is very physical. It’s not unusual for people to get minor joint strains or muscle pulls from time to time. Sometimes they last for a day or two. Sometimes they last longer, particularly when no action is taken to care for them.
People often ask me for suggestions for taking care of such injuries. So I’ll share here what I normally do. The most important thing to do is take care of the injury as soon as it occurs. People often tend to let it go and train through it when it’s something minor. This is a mistake because the onset of an injury sets the tone for your recovery.
As soon as the injury occurs, you should follow R.I.C.E. (Rest, Immobilization, Cold, Elevation). I also like to use anti-inflammatory agents to reduce pain and swelling. I use either ibuprofen (Advil) and a topical anti-inflammatory or both. The topical anti-inflammatory is a great trick of the trade. If it’s only a very minor strain, sometimes I’ll just smear some on the site of the injury then wait until after class to do cold therapy. If it’s a more serious injury, I apply it along with the cold therapy right at the onset of the injury.
There are a couple of options for topical inflammatory agents. The one I’ve used most is arnica gel. I always keep a tube of this stuff in my dojo first aid kit. Many of my students have tried it and found it to be effective. Some even bought their own to carry in their training bags. Another similar treatment is the Escents Aromatherapy Arthritis, Muscle & Joint Treatment gel. It has arnica in it as well as essential oils that are thought to help promote healing. I tried it a couple of times on minor joint strains and found it to be effective.
For ongoing injury care, don’t skimp on the cold therapy. I know it’s time consuming, but it’s very important for reducing your recovery time. You should apply cold to your injury regularly for the first 48 hours of your injury. Be sure to follow the rule of 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off so as not to irritate the surrounding tissues. That combined with anti-inflammatory agents (ingested or topical) will promote faster healing.
You should also go see a doctor to find out the extent of your injury and whether or not you should get ongoing care like physical therapy. After the first 48 hours, R.I.C.E. usually becomes M.I.C.E. (Movement, Immobilization, Compression, Elevation). “Movement” is often recommended to increase blood flow to the injury site to promote healing and to strengthen surrounding muscles to protect the joint. For example, my doctor recommended doing lots of cycling to help with my knee injury.
Of course, I need to point out that the contents of this blog post are not intended as medical advice. It’s just what I’ve had recommended to me and have found works well as a recovery strategy from experience. Every case is different, so you should always consult a doctor about your own specific injury.