Can You Still Train BJJ Without ACL? – Complete Guide

We all love to roll and train Jiu-Jitsu as much as possible, and well, the game plan is usually putting the opponent’s joints in jeopardy before he does the same to yours.

Some of the joints that are less attacked at first but become targets eventually are the legs. 

Most academies have started to put more and more focus on leg attacks thanks to the positive results attacking leg locks has shown in competition in recent years.

With this in mind, one must wonder, does having a bad knee mean you’ll be in trouble when training Jiu-Jitsu? And can you still train BJJ without ACL?

We will explain what can happen and how you can continue to practice if your Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) has been injured.

Let’s explain what the injury is before we go any further.

ACL Injury Briefly Explained

An Anterior Cruciate Ligament is a band that connects the thigh bone (femur) and the shinbone (tibia).

An injury in the ACL could either be a tear or a sprain, which commonly occur in sports that involve sudden stops or a change in direction when you jump or land.

BJJ Without ACL - Explined

The feeling you get when an ACL injury occurs is that of the knee “popping” (a thing you may also hear), followed by swelling of the knee, the feel of being unstable, and even feeling a lot of pain when the leg bears weight.

In Jiu-Jitsu, this could happen during scrambles, rotations when defending a leg lock, or during knee reaping.

According to the severity of the injury, there are three grades of tear.

Grade 1 ACL Tear

You are lucky if you suffer an ACL tear, but it is a grade one.

You shouldn’t be having too much trouble with it, but the pop and tear may have caused a lot of pain at first.

It will not need surgery, and after some rehabilitation, you should be back to the mats in no time. Provided you treat your recovery seriously and follow your doctor’s instructions. 

Grade 2 ACL Tear

This grade is called a partial ACL tear, and even though it sounds terrible, you are still in luck.

There’s a reasonable probability that you won’t need to go through surgery, but you’ll need some heavy physical therapy to get back on the mats.

After some weeks, things should start feeling better, but hard training will ideally take a decent recovery time.

Grade 3 ACL Tear

You indeed pulled the short straw if you have a grade three tear.

This grade of tear means you have completely torn the ACL, which could be the worst BJJ knee injury.

You will need surgery to fix most of the damage done, and it will require a long recovery time to get the knee to full strength and range of motion.

Learn about training bjj with a torn meniscus

Should You Train Through ACL Injury Pain?

BJJ Through ACL Injury Pain - BJJ No Gi

Having a grade one or two ACL tear is not a big deal, as you require just a little bit of time off during the initial weeks.

After most of the pain has faded away, you can get back to technique drilling with ease and maybe a little discomfort. You only have to worry about giving your knee most of the recommended time to rest before you decide to go back into rolling.

Unless, of course, you are going into leg lock-focused training, in which case, we’d recommend you to hold on just a little bit longer.

On a grade three tear, you need to go through the surgery and physical therapy during the first few months before going back into drilling.

Go Back Slowly

Once the knee has healed, you can start to push yourself into getting back to rolling slowly, but be patient.

Let the pain guide your training. If you feel pain or discomfort once you’re back on the mat, make adjustments or stop ultimately. Don’t ignore the signs your body sends you during training. 

If jumping jacks hurt, don’t do it. If passing guard standing is uncomfortable, work on your guard instead. If you can’t roll, try some solo drills. 

Don’t Rush Training

Don’t rush to train as nothing has happened. It would help if you acknowledged that some of your favorite positions and submissions might need adjustments. 

You might even need to adapt your game to your injury’s limitations in the long run. Don’t get discouraged by this. Take as an opportunity to work on other aspects of your BJJ game that you used to neglect.  

How To Still Train Some BJJ With My ACL Injury?

Practicing BJJ through an ACL injury will depend on how severe the tear was and your ability to adapt to your body’s limitations.

A grade one. ACL tear will allow you to do most technical drilling after a few weeks of rest. It may take a little over a month or even two before you can push yourself a little further.

A grade two tear will have you sitting out of the BJJ mats for a little bit, as it will take around a month for you to start feeling better.

You will likely be reintroducing rolling and hard training around the five months mark.

A complete ACL tear is where you will have to be out of the mats for a while. As in this case, you should be expecting around nine months of rehab post-surgery to be able to train at a heavy pace.

Should you quit BJJ due to injury?

List Of Exercises You Can Do With ACL Pain

Here, we will list a few simple exercises you can do when going through the rehabilitation and physical therapy portion of your recovery.

Once you begin to feel better, you will be able to get some technique drilling in the mats, but it is recommended that you take the time and go through proper physical therapy first.

Three Safe ACL Exercises to Start Rehab

These few exercises will be good to perform early on when your knee is still feeling weak from the injury.

Heel Slides

Heel Slides - Training BJJ with ACL pain

The heel slide is a pretty simple exercise for mobility.

  1. Sit or lay down on the floor with your legs outstretched.
  2. Slowly bend the knee backward as you slide the heel across the ground towards your body.
  3. Once it is close, then slide back down to the starting position.

Isometric Quad Contractions

Isometric Quad Contractions For ACL Pain In BJJ

You can do this exercise while sitting.

  1. Sit with your injured leg extended as the other one is bent back.
  2. Place a towel under the back of your knee as support.
  3. Contract the quadriceps, and hold the contraction for 10 seconds before relaxing and repeating.

Prone knee flexion

Prone knee flexion
  1. Lay down on your stomach with the legs straight.
  2. Bend the knee and bring the heel towards your butt.
  3. Hold the position for a brief moment and then return to the start.
  4. Repeat the process a few times.

Exercises to do when the swelling subsides

Once the swelling goes down, you should be able to stand on your own without favoring the healthy leg.

When you have reached that point, these are some excellent exercises to implement:

Heel Raises

Heel Raises
  1. For this exercise, place one hand on the back of a chair or a wall (Just for balance).
  2. Lift the heels so you now stand only on your tiptoes and keep the position for five to ten seconds before slowly lowering the heels back to the ground.
  3. Repeat a few times.

Half Squats

Half Squats
  1. Hold a table or any sturdy structure with your hands for balance.
  2. Continue by placing your feet at shoulders’ width apart, and bend the knees to lower your hips towards a half squat. 
  3. Hold for a few seconds.
  4. Go back to the starting position.

Knee Extensions

Knee Extensions

This exercise requires an exercise band.

  1. Loop one of the ends of the band around the leg of a table or any other strong enough structure.
  2. Loop the opposite end around your ankle, and then face the opposite side of the resistance band. 
  3. Extend your knee and hold the position for a few seconds before slowly bending the knee again. 

One Leg Stands

One Leg Stands

Pretty simple exercise.

  1. Stand on your injured leg while lifting the other leg. 
  2. Hold the position for a few seconds before lowering your leg.

What Is The Recovery Time After You Suffered A BJJ ACL Injury?

When it comes to the recovery time, it all goes back to the severity of the ACL Tear.

ACL Tear GradeRecovery Expectation
OneRecovery time is just around three months.
TwoThe recovery time increases between three and six months.
ThreeThe recovery time increases between nine to twelve months after surgery.

If You Can’t Train BJJ With An ACL Injury, What Are Your Other Options?

Keeping things simple, if you cannot train BJJ, your knee is not in shape for most physical activities.

By the time the knee allows you to stand, move, and handle the exercises previously mentioned, you might be able to do low-intensity drilling and practice.

The best option is to keep yourself in physical therapy to avoid unwanted results like making your injury worse or doubling your recovery time.

Can BJJ Training Cause Or Aggravate An ACL Injury?

When it comes to grade one and two ACL tears, you need to slow down and focus on rehab over BJJ in the early stages of the injury.

If you have shown improvement, low-intensity technique drilling is unlikely to aggravate your injuries. 

Unless the focus in class is to show knee reaping and leg locks in general, in which case, well, you know it isn’t going to end well.

If we are talking about a complete tear, you should rest until you see some improvement post-surgery, as training while injured will aggravate it.

Thankfully, treatment isn’t so bad and doesn’t take too much time. 

Treatment Options for A BJJ ACL Injury

There are only three points to cover in this kind of injury, and they also depend on the grade of the tear.

The RICE Protocol

First, the treatment once the tear occurs, and the “RICE” method works.

Rest

Right off the bat, the best thing to do is rest, as it will limit the weight-bearing on the knee and allow for necessary healing.

Ice

Try to ice your knee for 20 minutes at a time, once every hour, to keep the muscles in tension.

Compress

Take the time to wrap a bandage or compression wrap around the injured knee to help it keep its place.

Elevate

Take the time to lie down while keeping your knee up over pillows or any other surface.

ACL BJJ Injury Rehabilitation

The treatment for grade two tears and post-surgery in the case of a grade thee tear usually begins with several weeks of physical therapy.

It covers some of the exercises previously mentioned and plenty more to get proper recovery and conditioning.

In some cases, you might need a Brace to stabilize the knee. Furthermore, some doctors might go as far as to recommend crutches for a while to assist in walking.

ACL Surgery

Surgery will be the direct option to start treatment when a complete tear has taken place, but it can also happen with a partial tear if you and your doctor agree it is your best shot at recovery.

Prevention Tips For Avoiding An ACL Injury As A BJJ Practitioner

In Jiu-Jitsu, we can develop a pretty clear idea of the movements and attacks that could put our legs in danger. The following are some examples.

  • Leg locks.
  • Knee slicers.
  • Toe holds.
  • Ankle lock.

We can reduce the risk of injury by avoiding putting ourselves in positions that jeopardize our ACL. 

Taping early might also be an excellent option to stay safe. At least until you fully understand which positions bring you the most risk or pain.

Be careful in all leg lock entanglements

Popular belief is that avoiding heel hooks will limit the chance of a knee tear, but to be honest, an ACL tear can come from anywhere.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t have to be especially careful when dealing with leg locks during attacks and escapes.

Knee Reaping is illegal in competitions because it puts a ton of pressure on the knee ligaments and could easily cause injury when you fight the knee reap.

You would have to learn how to adjust to minimize risks properly, but that means investing some time in proper leg lock defense and being careful about it.

Be mindful of your positioning in scrambles and takedown shoots

ACL tears are more likely to happen during scrambles due to movements like pivoting and intricate cutting.

This can also transfer to shooting for a double or single-leg takedown. Both require significant footwork to execute correctly. 

Wrestling-style takedowns need to be quite explosive to secure the points during competition. Therefore, they might put significant stress on your BJJ ACL injury.

Keep the positioning in the back of your mind at all times, as improving your leg positioning will avoid injury and allow you to control situations more effectively.

Can You Still Train BJJ Without ACL? – Final Ideas

One of the most dreaded injuries for most of the Jiu-Jitsu community, the ACL, is not as alarming as one would initially think.

Well, as long as the severity of the injury isn’t at its highest, that’s for sure.

For those who experience a partial tear, just be patient and take the time to heal, as you will still be capable of going back into the mats pretty soon.

If you enjoyed the content presented in this article, and maybe know a few other practitioners who are worried about an ACL injury in BJJ, or those who have bad knees and could probably be interested in the information, then share it with them.

We hope you stay healthy and not only roll harder but smarter. 

Keep rolling, keep flowing.

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