Can Jiu-Jitsu Cause Brain Damage?

Jiu-Jitsu is becoming one of the most famous martial arts for professionals who compete in Jiu-Jitsu or MMA and for amateurs who want to know how to defend themselves. 

Unlike other combat sports, where kicking and punching are the primary weapons against rivals, Jiu-Jitsu is safer because punches and kicks are not legal techniques, but Jiu-Jitsu is still not 100% safe from brain damage.

In this MMAWhisperer breakdown, we look at the following aspects of whether BJJ causes brain damage:

  • Likely causes of brain damage in BJJ
  • Whether chokes can cause brain damage
  • Common non-brain injuries in BJJ
  • Safety of BJJ compared to other combat sports
  • Best practices for injury prevention in BJJ

Without further ado, let’s dive into the topic of whether BJJ can cause brain damage, and if so, what you can do about it.

How Does Jiu-Jitsu Cause Brain Damage?

Jiu-Jitsu is a combat sport with lots of dynamic action and movement. Within that context, there are multiple different ways to suffer brain damage during training or competition. 


Takedowns are one of the ways you can get brain damage in Jiu-Jitsu. The risk of brain damage is fairly equal for both parties in this process. The grappler who shoots the takedown and the grappler being taken down can both suffer concussive impact if the takedown is hard enough.

Let’s be honest, Jiu-Jitsu fighters are not great in takedowns compared to wrestlers, but still, during training and competing in BJJ, you will see techniques like double or single leg takedowns.

Takedowns can be intense

When a fighter goes for a takedown, he is supposed to crush his rival with his shoulder. 

However, this requires high precision to execute seamlessly, which is not always how it happens in live grappling scenarios.

Sometimes, fighters clash into each others heads, with the potential for severe concussive impact.

That’s also how wrestlers get cauliflower ears, and that’s also where you might get brain damage.

If you strike your rival’s hip bone with your head, you might feel like you are getting knocked down yourself.

Also, you might get a brain injury when you hit your head on the mat as someone takes you down. This is also a key reason why you must learn to properly breakfall, which we will discuss later on. 

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Accidental Elbows/Knees

Another way of getting brain damage is to get hit accidentally.

This is fairly common in Jiu-Jitsu, especially with beginners, because they don’t know how to flow.

Furthermore, during the competitions, fighters are very nervous, and they get aggressive, too, which ramps up the likelihood of a brain-damaging impact.

The rival might hit you with a knee while locking a triangle choke, and you might get punched in the face while trying to lock d’arce choke or reared-nake choke, among many possible impacts.


Given that choking techniques in BJJ work by cutting off blood supply to the brain, there is always the chance for brain damage if you go unconscious before you tap to the choke. In the next section, we will dive deeper into the possibility for brain damage from Jiu Jitsu chokes.

Can Being Choked Out in Jiu-Jitsu Cause Permanent Damage?

Can being choked cause brain damage in BJJ

When we examine the process of being choked out, it looks scary.

However, Jiu-Jitsu chokes typically are not held longer than a few seconds.

People usually tap eventually. But, if they fail to tap, it may take you 10-15 seconds to realize that your opponent went to “sleep.”

After that, waking them up without any brain damage is possible, because it takes longer than that before the lack of oxygen in the brain starts being a problem.

In a word, of course, it is not good for the brain, but there is no study saying that short-lasting chokes cause long-term brain damage. 

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How Long Do You Need To Be Choked Before Brain Damage? 

It takes roughly four to five minutes without oxygen for the brain to start dying.

It’s virtually unheard of that a grappler would be choked unconscious without being revived for 4 minutes in a sporting context, so while you technically can get permanent damage from chokes in BJJ, it is very very unlikely.

Do You Lose Brain Cells If You Get Choked Out?

To lose brain cells from a choke requires the previously mentioned 4-5 minutes of unconsciousness. So again, while technically possible, it is highly unlikely.

What Injuries Can You Get From Jiu-Jitsu?

Jiu-Jitsu injuries you can get

While brain damage is not one of the most common injuries you will face in this sport, Jiu Jitsu is far from an injury-free activity.

Let’s discuss what kind of injuries BJJ fighters commonly face.

Lower Back Injuries

Lower back injuries are one of the most common things you will hear from any BJJ fighter.

Fighters use their hips and legs to control the rivals from the bottom, such as when they are in the full or half guard position from their back. This exposes the lumbar to potential heavy pressure if your opponent stacks you with a lot of weight.

The risk of getting lower back injury is higher when rolling with heavier guys because the pressure on the lumbar has greater potential to cause muscle or disc injury.

Neck Injuries 

Neck injuries are another common injury in BJJ.

 You can take significant tissue damage to the neck when an opponent tries to choke you.

For example, trying to survive in Guillotine, Triangle, Arm-Triangle, or Reared-Naked choke can cause lots of neck pain. 

Neck pain can also be caused by being in an awkward position.

For example, if you try to lock the arm bar or triangle from your back, your rival might decide to put all his weight and pressure on your neck to escape. 

You might injure a muscle or nerve in your neck during these moments.

Harming nerves is way more dangerous and requires seeing a doctor, but you can typically recover from muscle damage without major medical intervention. 

In addition to the neck and lower back, shoulders, knees, and ears are other parts of the body that are commonly injured during the course of a grappling match.

Statistics About The Injuries During The Training

We have some excellent data from the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation of the University of Missouri in Columbia, and the Department of Biology of the University of Wisconsin.

These studies give us great statistics on common injuries during BJJ training and competitions. 

Hand/fingersFinger hyperextension or jammed finger70
Foot/toesToe hyperextension or jammed toe52
Arm elbowHyperextension51
KneeKnee pain or meniscus tear45
BackLower back pain43
ShoulderShoulder pain41
Head/FaceBlack eye or cauliflower ear32
TorsoChest pain27

Statistics About The Injuries During Competition 

InjuryNo. of injuries
Elbow (orthopedic)14
Knee (orthopedic)7
Rib or costochondral fractures7
Foot and ankle (orthopedic)5
Hand (orthopedic)4
Shoulder (orthopedic)4
Lacerations requiring medical care3
Hip (orthopedic)1
Cervical (orthopedic)1

How Dangerous Is Jiu-Jitsu Compared To Other Martial Arts

According to much of the research, Jiu-Jitsu is one of the safest combat sports.

Researchers found out that, on average, 9.2 athletes from the sample of 1000 get injured in BJJ. 

Meanwhile, the number of injured MMA fighters is 236-286 out of 1,000.

Based on this information, we can assume that BJJ is far safer than MMA, which makes sense because MMA includes all the combat sports, including striking, wrestling, and submission grappling. 

SportsInjury Rate Per 1000 athletes
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu9.2
Mixed Martial Arts236-286

There is a much higher probability that you will get injured in other combat sports than in BJJ. Wrestling is the closest in terms of ‘danger coefficient’ but still can be three times more dangerous.

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Which Techniques Cause the Most Injuries In BJJ?

According to the same research, the elbow was the most injured part of the body, and the arm bar was the most dangerous submission, which caused that injury.

But note that this injury occurred when fighters did not stop soon enough.

The second most dangerous technique appears to be takedowns, which cause a variety of injuries. 

Check the graph for more details: 

Which Techniques Cause the Most Injuries In BJJ

What Sport Causes The Most Brain Damage?

The top three combat sports that cause brain damage are MMA, Boxing, and Kickboxing. 

According to some of the researchers, MMA has the highest potential for head injuries. 

In boxing, the absolute number of injuries may be lower than MMA, but a greater percentage of injuries in boxing are head injuries, which makes a lot of sense given that the biggest goal in boxing is landing hard blows to the head.

In boxing, 84% of injuries were head or neck injuries.

Karate holds the second place with 74% of injuries being head injuries. MMA and Kickboxing shared the third position with 64% and 55%, respectively.

Is Jiu-Jitsu Safe To Learn?

After all this information, we have the final logical question: Is Jiu-Jitsu safe or not? Do the benefits outweigh the risk and is it worth training in BJJ or not?

First of all, overdoing anything can be unhealthy. But Jiu-Jitsu can positively affect your everyday life.

It teaches you self-defense, with the lowest risk of injuries relative to the other sports that offer similar self-defense benefits.

Jiu-Jitsu is safe because you can always tap if something bad happens. Even if there is no choke or lock, and you feel uncomfortable, you can tap, and your rival should stop within the normal ruleset. 

In striking martial arts, you go to exchanges and get knocked down or knocked out and simply cannot give up before receiving damage.

That’s why Jiu-Jitsu is safer than other martial arts, even if not risk-free.

Is Jiu-Jitsu Good For Mental Health?

One of the tremendous benefits you can have from Jiu-Jitsu is improving mental health. 

Everyone has many problems with their boss, co-workers, family, relatives, friends, etc. Life is challenging, and Jiu-Jitsu is one of how people find ways of release from everyday routine and problems. 

Jiu-Jitsu increases the confidence level and releases endorphins and serotonin, the hormones of happiness. 

Jiu-Jitsu will not only make you physically stronger and flexible but also mentally resilient and stronger.

Does Jiu-Jitsu Make You Smarter? 

Jiu-Jitsu requires lots of focus and attention. Do not forget that Jiu-Jitsu was created for small people to be able to defeat bigger ones.

Old school jiu-jitsu fighters were often physically weaker, but their other “muscle,” the brain, was their main weapon against bigger guys. 

After practicing Jiu-Jitsu, people are more patient, can handle extreme stressful moments quickly, and can improve their focus and attention abilities.

These are useful skills in everyday life, too, but injuries are a reality of training, even though BJJ is safer than other sports. 

So, to make BJJ more beneficial, we need to reduce the risk of injuries. 

How Can Injuries Be Reduced in BJJ?

Warm Up/ Stretch / Breakfall

The biggest mistake every professional or amateur makes is not warming up properly. 

Try to warm up your joints and actively stretch well before starting rolling with your partner.

A warm muscle and joint can be the difference between safely executing a technique and straining or spraining your tissues.

Also, learning to breakfall is key to dissipating the force from a hard takedown. A proper breakfall can be the difference between safely landing or getting a serious head or back injury.

Tapping Is Not a Shame

If you feel you are in imminent danger and have lost control of the situation, tap!

Some people are ashamed to tap, and that’s why they get injured. You might even survive the chokes, but you will get injured and be in pain for several weeks, is this really worth it? 

Some people think that surviving and holding on is the way to improve their abilities, but this is not 100% true; there are other ways of improving skills which require tapping when you need to.

Getting injured and being at home for 2-3 weeks is the last thing you want to do when trying to improve at BJJ.

Be Careful With Rolling New Students

The more experienced the BJJ fighter you are rolling with, the less likely you will get injured. 

New students sometimes are doing the stuff they do not know correctly, and they might injure you and themselves by being “spazzy.”

If someone new is asking you to roll, I recommend first finding out if he is a hard roller or able to flow roll. If you aren’t prepared for an all-out match, consider skipping roles with brand new students until you are a highly advanced rank.

Headgear To Prevent Cauliflower Ear

Cauliflower ear is a common injury in grappling that can affect the outward appearance of your ears.

We recommend using special headgear to prevent cauliflower ear. 

Warming your ears for a few seconds in combination with using headgear will prevent the risk of cauliflower ear substantially.

Why You Should Try BJJ

Of course, no one is safe from the injuries, but Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the safest martial art, which can be even safer if you consider the things we mentioned above. 

The skills you will improve in BJJ will not only be beneficial on the mat, but also in everyday life. 

Being confident, having less stress, being active, and stronger leads you to be successful in your career, whatever your field is.

While you should expect to be injured at some point, there is not a physical activity in existence that is totally risk free.

However, the risks of sedentary living, or being unable to defend yourself in a fight, are very real. 

In our opinion, these bigger risks outweigh the possibility of injury during training.

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