Herniated discs are one of the most common reasons for spinal pain. They occur when a portion of the jelly-like cushioning between vertebrae herniates, or bulges out, into the space around and in front of it.
The bony protrusions that form along the bony surfaces on either side of a herniated disc can also compress the spinal cord or nerve roots.
There are many reasons why someone might have a herniated disc, but most often it is due to wear and tear on the discs that occur with aging. Other causes include repetitive motion (such as from lifting or BJJ) or trauma (such as from a car accident).
But, can you train BJJ with a herniated disc?
Table of Contents
- How Can You Tell If You Have A Herniated Disc And What Are The Symptoms?
- Can You Still Train BJJ If You Have A Herniated Disc?
- How To Train BJJ With A Herniated Disc?
- If You Can’t Train, What Are Your Other Options?
- Can BJJ Training Cause Or Aggravate A Herniated Disc?
- Treatment Options for a Herniated Disc
- Prevention tips for avoiding a herniated disc as a BJJ practitioner
- Training BJJ With A Herniated Disc Final Ideas
How Can You Tell If You Have A Herniated Disc And What Are The Symptoms?
Most people with a herniated disc will experience pain. The pain often radiates from the back and down one or both legs. Other symptoms can include numbness, tingling, weakness, or burning in the affected area.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor for an evaluation.
Can You Still Train BJJ If You Have A Herniated Disc?
The vertebrae that form our spine in the back are cushioned by discs, which are round like small pillows called the ‘Annulus.’
What do discs do?
These cushions have three main functions.
- The first is their work as shock absorbers in the spine, as they are positioned between each bony vertebra.
- The second is that they act as tough ligaments that hold the spine’s vertebrae together.
- Their third function is as cartilaginous joints that allow for slight mobility in the spine.
How do they help or affect BJJ practice?
Discs allow movement to your spine. Whenever you curl forward to go for your opponent’s legs or bend backward to put pressure on your guillotine choke, you use the discs and vertebrae to finish your submission.
As you can guess, they have a massive role in your daily Jiu-Jitsu practice.
So what is a herniated disc?
A herniated disc is a fragment of the disc nucleus. The disc is pushed out of the annulus into the spinal canal due to a tear or rupture in the annulus.
Due to the displacement caused, the disc presses on spinal nerves, often producing pain, which may be severe sometimes.
Herniated discs are likely to occur in the lower back, but they can happen in any part of the spine, including the neck.
The area where you might feel pain depends on what part of the spine is affected.
What causes a herniated disc?
Multiple reasons could cause a herniated disc, and one of them could be a single excessive strain or injury.
For example, picture the physical strength on your spine when you try to lift and hold a classmate who weighs 30 pounds more than you in the air before you land the takedown.
A strain or twisting movement can also cause a disc to rupture, so beware those neck cranks and the Twister submission, as they are likely to generate more than enough pressure to cause damage.
How To Train BJJ With A Herniated Disc?
There are a few options that someone with a herniated disc can use to train BJJ normally:
1) Avoid twisting movements and getting stacked
If you can train, these are the two main things you’ll want to avoid during training not to aggravate your injuries.
Twisting movements, like an octopus guard or a tight rubber guard, may strain your spine to different degrees, so keeping that in mind would be good if you do rely on those moves.
Also, it would be best to avoid a twister even more than usual, as it will cause a ton of strain to our spine if it lands. If you see it coming, tap early.
2) Focus on stretching both before and after class
Some people resort to Yoga when they find themselves in this situation, and it is understandable.
It is a great option to take your time during the warm-ups to stretch and get your spine as comfortable and ready to go as soon as possible before the actual practice happens.
3) Pain-relieving creams and pills are not your enemies
Some practitioners avoid medication as long as they do not show any difference in their performance on the mat. This will only worsen after you cool down and the class’s adrenaline is gone.
Some of the options you have are anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, or COX-2 inhibitors.
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If You Can’t Train, What Are Your Other Options?
You still have to do some exercise to stay in decent shape, but if the pain is insufferable for you to handle due to the pressure that BJJ causes, there are always other options.
Physical therapy programs that you may want to try:
- Stretching exercises to keep your muscles flexible.
- Aerobic conditioning, like walking or light jogging, swimming, and riding a stationary bicycle.
- Massage therapy.
- Ice and heat.
- Electrical muscle stimulation.
Can BJJ Training Cause Or Aggravate A Herniated Disc?
In short: Yes, it can and likely will.
If you have a herniated disc, rest is one of the first things you may want to consider, as most symptoms improve after a few weeks.
It is likely to aggravate your situation when pressured (like most well-executed control positions are meant to do in BJJ).
It is more so if you are twisting (or getting twisted) heavily during practice, as it can increase damage or even cause a second herniated disc.
If you are training with an injury like this, it is likely that you are aiming to compete soon and can’t afford to slow down.
It is recommended that you focus on technique and not stress your back too much, so a combination of treatment and low-intensity training should soon help you get back to normal.
Treatment Options for a Herniated Disc
Depending on how bad the herniated disc damage is, there are multiple options and treatments for you to try. Some of these include:
- Physical therapy, exercise, and light stretching to help relieve pressure on the nerve root
- Ice and heat therapy for pain relief.
- Chiropractic Manipulation.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Oral steroids for pain relief.
- Epidural injections to reduce inflammation for pain relief.
The last three options are meant for those whose pain is such that they cannot comfortably train, as the damage to their spine should be a pretty serious deal.
Your doctor is likely to recommend surgery if conservative treatment options, such as those previously mentioned, do not reduce or end the pain.
As with any other kind of surgery, different factors like the patient’s age, overall health, and other issues are part of the considerations taken to go for the surgery.
Prevention tips for avoiding a herniated disc as a BJJ practitioner
Heavy strain, twists, and pressure are ways to cause a herniated disc. Still, you also need to know that disc material will degenerate as you age. Furthermore, the ligaments that hold them in place will become weaker too.
With more degeneration, minor strains or twisting will become enough to cause a disc to rupture.
This doesn’t mean that you have to stop training BJJ as you become older. Quite the contrary, we encourage you to continue training at older ages.
Work towards improving your technique and becoming more efficient to prevent this kind of damage.
Here we have a few tips you may want to follow to avoid damaging your discs:
1) Do not tense up to fight back the pressure
If you are feeling heavy top pressure from your opponent, try to relax your muscles a bit to relax your back and decrease the stress.
Being tense means that your muscles are applying strength, which means that they will charge you the bill after you relax or finish the round.
You may not feel the strain or pain during that moment, but as soon as your body slows down and relaxes, you will feel it, BAD.
2) If you are being stacked up, let go and move into something more comfortable
Being stacked up is a position you’ll likely find yourself in if you catch an armbar and your opponent has both his knees on the ground and pushes into the arm to defend.
Another way to get there is when your opponent stood when you got the triangle choke locked in, as they want to put all the weight back on top of you to free themselves.
There are a few other situations, but we will stick to the first two.
If you have your submission close and get stacked up, you can keep looking for and even get the finish in any normal situation.
However, having a herniated disc in your spine turns it into a pretty bad situation, so you are better off letting go of the lock and get out of there into a better position.
3) Do not try to lift and throw the class juggernauts
This one should be pretty obvious. If you have a herniated disc, make sure your technique is perfect when you do your throws, but lifting and holding your classmates is a no-no.
For the same reason, even if you have solid technique, you are better off just trying to avoid throwing that one huge classmate over your shoulder today, just as an extra measure to keep the physical stress low on your spine.
Training BJJ With A Herniated Disc Final Ideas
Waking up sore in the morning after training is quite the usual thing in Jiu-Jitsu, to the point that it feels like nothing is wrong with your disc.
Some people don’t even notice if they are injured due to how frequently we feel that way. Go check yourself now and then to know if you are in good shape and health or if you may have pushed a little too hard lately.
If you find out you have a herniated disc, just keep it cool. From what you may have learned today, you should know that it will not be as bad as it sounds.
A little rest, good treatment, and the right physical therapy should get you going to the mats healed and strong in a short time.
You can always use that extra resting time to look into our other articles and get some good insight into other topics you might be interested in or share them with friends.
For now, we hope you have a great day and keep training safely.