If you’ve been practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for some time, chances are you have damaged your fingers. Finger injuries are easily the most common injury you will suffer from practicing BJJ – especially if you train mostly in the Gi. For a BJJ grappler, the hands and fingers are the most important tools. Your fingers take a beating through your rolls. It’s important to keep them healthy! If your fingers look like they got beat by hammer, this article is for you! Let’s take a look at how to deal with your Jiu Jitsu fingers and how to deal with BJJ finger pain and injury.
Causes of Jiu Jitsu Fingers
When you practice BJJ, you constantly put your fingers through a lot. The grip fighting and heavy grip breaking eventually will take its toll on your fingers. If you play the Gi, it can very difficult to avoid!
Jiu Jitsu Fingers are very common especially with guard players. Especially if you play the Spider Guard or the De La Riva, your chances of damaging a finger are that much higher. When you play the guard, you usually are on the attack to either submit and sweep your opponent. You tug on the sleeves, the pant leg, the collar, or whatever you can grab, squeezing hard to prevent your opponent’s movement. Your opponent on the other hand will do the exact opposite, using their full force to break those grips!
You can break your fingers if you force yourself not to let go. Your fingers are extremely fragile compared to your other body parts. It doesn’t take a whole lot to break them! Learn to let go.
Long Term Risks for Jiu Jitsu Fingers
Jiu Jitsu Fingers are more common than you think. A lot of grapplers have them! Even top-level grapplers like Keenan Cornelius and Joao Miyao have really banged up fingers. In a social media post, Cornelius mentions:
Coming up on a decade of Jiu-Jitsu, these hands have taken a beating. I would say I’ve lost about 20% of the mobility in my fingers. I can’t make a closed fist anymore which has forced me to use Bas Rutten open palm self-defense strikes when things go sour in the streets. I spend about 60 dollars a year in tape (buying in bulk) multiple sprains, an evulsion fracture and countless torn knuckles. I’m proud of what they have become, gnarled claws from 10 years of choking and gripping and grasping. Here’s to the next decade of mangled digits.
BJJ grapplers are notorious for not taking time off the mats even after an injury! If you don’t take a break from training, your body doesn’t have the time to heal itself. If you aren’t careful, you can have some serious long-term effects! Have you seen Joao Miyao’s fingers? They’re pretty gnarly! That’s most likely due to years of training, injuring, and re-injuring those joints before they had time to fully heal.
Those badly damaged Jiu Jitsu fingers can lead to osteoarthritis (OA). The wear and tear on your joints cause that degenerative joint pain. The cartilage on your joints wear down, causing your bones to rub together, leading to inflammation.
Some early symptoms include:
- Pain and tenderness
- Loss of finger flexibility
- Joint stiffness
- Weaker grip strength
- Heavy swelling
If you have these early symptoms from your Jiu Jitsu fingers, there might be a high risk for you to get OA! Be sure to consult your doctor!
Treatments for Jiu Jitsu Finger Pains
The next question then becomes, how do you deal with your Jiu Jitsu Fingers? What are some treatments you can implement to deal with the pain?
Ice and Rest
Probably the more obvious treatments and yet most ignored treatment is ice and rest. BJJ grapplers are stubborn when it comes to taking time off the mats. However, rest is extremely crucial for your recovery. If you truly don’t want to take too much time off the mats, maybe try icing your fingers. Take a mini ice bath and dip your hand in a bucket of ice water! Icing has rapid recovery properties that alleviates those joint pains.
Stretch and Exercise
Just like your other muscle groups when you work out, it’s important to stretch and exercise. Your fingers are no different. When you stretch them out, you gain better mobility in your joints. When you exercise your fingers, you build strength in your joints. Doing both regularly will not only speed up the recovery process, it will reduce the risks of further injury.
Some excellent tools for strength training will be your traditional grip strengthener and resistance stress balls. Another excellent tool would be Airisland’s Finger Stretch Resistance Bands. They’re great for arthritis and carpal tunnel! Rock climbers use them to increase their finger strength.
Stretching your fingers is also extremely important. You need to do this consistently to improve your joint mobility. This article is an excellent resource: 10 basic exercises to improve flexibility and strength in your hands and fingers.
Warm Bath Treatment
Warm water is like magic for your achy joints! It works wonders on pain and can alleviate the stresses on your Jiu Jitsu fingers!
Soaking in warm water is one of the oldest forms of treatment for stiff joints and arthritis. It’s proven to decrease swelling and improve circulation. It’s great for relaxing and stimulates blood flow to those stiff muscles and joints!
One great option would be Therabath’s Thermotherapy Paraffin Bath. It’s extremely therapeutic and proven to be effective for arthritis and joint stiffness on the hands. Or you can go the old-fashioned way! Just dip your hands in some warm water! Just don’t go too hot or it can do more harm than good. Be sure to keep temperatures between 92 and 100.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID) is another option for treatment. Things like Advil, Tylenol, or Tivorbex could help bring down the swelling in your fingers. However, just like anything else, take pain meds in moderation. All those pills can't be too good for your liver in the long run. Be sure to only use this as last resort if the pain is too severe. Definitely consult your doctor before taking medication.
BJJ Finger Pain Prevention
Fully preventing finger injuries might be difficult, especially if you are a serious competitor. But it’s necessary to take the proper precautions when you are training. Or else your fingers might look like the Miyao brothers’ fingers in the future! Here are a few ways you should consider if you have painful Jiu Jitsu Fingers.
Avoid Heavy Gripping
When you are gripping on your opponent’s gi, try not to have death grip! This is very common especially to beginner grapplers just starting out. On competition, all the adrenaline rushes in and your opponent comes at you at full speed, and you grip for dear life! This can go really bad if your opponent has great grip breaking techniques. Your fingers can bend in the wrong way and snap!
Also, if you play a lot of Spider Guard, try to switch things up. If your fingers are already sore, try to do techniques that don’t heavily rely on grips. Give your fingers a break once in a while. Try playing half guard or try your top game techniques that doesn’t rely on heavy gi grips!
Switch to No Gi Training
Another great option would be switching to No Gi for a little while. Doing No-Gi can help your fingers recover a bit while improving your No Gi techniques. Even if you prefer Gi vs No Gi, switching styles can prove to help your game a lot. No Gi techniques allow you to improve your offense and attacks. It allows you to become more explosive and a better wrestler. You get all these benefits that you can apply to the Gi AND you give your fingers a chance to heal!
Tape Your Fingers
Taping your fingers helps reinforce, strengthen, and reduce injury. If you heavily rely on grips, most likely you have developed calluses on the back of your fingers. Your skin probably has become weak and sensitive to the touch. Taping your fingers can help reduce the chances of ripping your skin up.
It also helps fortify your grip and reduce joint injury. The compression you get from the tape allows you to grip much stronger while reducing the pressure on your joints. Check out this article from BJJ Heroes on the Science of Taping Your Fingers!
There are also some great resources on YouTube on how to tape fingers for BJJ. Here’s a video, check it out!
As a grappler, your hands and your fingers are your most important tools. It goes without saying that you should properly take care of them if you want to have longevity in your BJJ journey. Your fingers are extremely fragile. It doesn’t take a whole lot to damage them. Its important to take the necessary precautions when it comes to your fingers. Badly damaged Jiu Jitsu fingers can get painful. It also poses long term risk implications as you age. Make sure to implement the proper rest and exercise to your fingers to get you rolling longer on the mats!