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How to cure BJJ knee injuries fast!

Of the three most common injuries in Jiu-Jitsu people get- knee, shoulder or neck injuries I only injured my knees and after an ACL replacement on the right and meniscus trimming on the left knee (before learning how to roll with knee safety in mind) I am 100% healthy when it come to my joints and neck.

I never had many injuries. Although I’ve train almost every day for the last 15 years after starting BJJ at age 32. I’ve always had enough common sense, sleep, water and sound nutrition to prevent being injured for any long amount of time.

Sadly, I am witnessing students who do not have this luck.

It seems that a combination of overtraining and unawareness of the weaknesses of your body is the most likely cause for injuries especially in your white belt phase of training BJJ. We take many steps at West Coast BJJ to minimize the chances of injuries:

1. New students do not free spar until their first promotion (about six month- exceptions are only made for students with previous grappling experience)

2. New students are not allowed any submission in targeting sparring until their first promotion

3. Students do not submit new students that don’t have their first promotion

4. We use a well designed 6 months class curriculum that prescribes sound drills, techniques and class layout

5. We prepare and guide our coaches now with detailed safety, action and emergency procedures given in writing

6. We screen our coaches very carefully, only allowing those to teach who have proven themselves as trustworthy over a long period of mat time

7. We remove coaches who do not to show leadership and/or do not follow the rules and guidelines we have given them regardless of rank or accomplishment

8. We are demonstrating any high percentage, proven technique as long as it looks safe for a majority of our students regardless of age (no rubber guard)

9. We are discussing safe and unsafe techniques and practices on a regular basis in class

10. We maintain the right sparring culture in all classes that prioritizes group safety over individual accomplishment. We try to start each sparring sessions with: “Remember, you are responsible for your partners safety!”

No matter how safe we try to be injuries will occur and with knee injuries being the most popular injury I want to talk about what to do and what not do to. Here is a sadly typical story of a student in his own words:

“I tore my left outer meniscus two years ago; I know of people who have had this injury and have maintained a active sports life. However I was misdiagnosis for over a year and sustained major damage to my meniscus. Doctors and specialist threw me around the system.

I eventually had surgery for the first time on August 14, 2011. Dr. “X” removed in his own estimate 20% of the damage meniscus. Recovery was quick and I began being active again.

Thats roughly when I started training Jiu-jitsu again with west coast. It was only three or four months after I began training Jiu-jitsu that I started to get soreness again in my knee. Before I new it a cyst was forming. I was concerned so I went back to Dr…..

I had second surgery on May 26th 2012. It turned out he didn’t remove enough of the damage meniscus which was the cause of the cyst. After the surgery He said he had removed up to 40% more of the meniscus. It didn’t stop there though. Around the beginning of August of 2012 I went back to Dr. …. for discomfort in my knee and he gave me a cortisone shot to help it.

It definitely made it feel good in the moment but now after 8 months the pain is worse then ever. [I have been told that another] cyst has formed where the old one was, right on the surgery line.

Where I’m at now with my knee is in great discomfort stuck waiting for surgery. I’m only 19 years old but now have a high risk of getting arthritis in my knee at a very young age. As much as I love being active and playing sports my first priority I’ve realized now is to just get healthy again.”

It is so painful to me to hear stories like this based on mis-diagnosis and delayed procedures. In contrast I would like to share the story of my last surgery hoping to share some valuable pointers. I had pain bending my knee just like him. I took it easy on the knee for a month and when it did not improve I went to my GP insisting to see a specialist.

Rule #1: Never allow your GP to diagnose your knee. No offence but it is well out of their area of expertise no matter what they pretend. I asked him to refer me to a specialist I had chosen based on testimonials of other athletes

Rule # 2: Never assume that a specialist is very good at what he is doing. Always select your surgeon based on referrals and testimonials from athletes not your Aunty Judy. I selected Dr Chauncey in Maple Ridge and called right away and asked to go on her wait list to see her. I was able to see her within one week.

Rule #3: Always ask to go on the wait-list! Even if you miss the first call you are still way ahead of all the WCB cases who in general have no hurry to return to work by their own admission. She took her time to diagnose me and came to the correct diagnosis: that she had no way of telling what actually was wrong with my knee

Rule #4: Never wait or rely on the MRI Your tenons may look perfect on the MRI when they are actually so stretched that they will not support your knee at all (think guitar string- you can’t tell how tight it is until you touch it). Dr Chauncey scheduled me in for day surgery and again I asked her to go on the wait list. I go the call 3 days later but had to decline due to a trip.

When I returned I called again asking to go back on the wait list and I went in two weeks later for day surgery. When she scoped my knee she found a major meniscus tear and trimmed and cleaned it up properly right on the spot. I walked (limped) out of the hospital and started physio on the very next day. I started (very careful) training again the following day.

Rule #5: Dont’ Wait! Rehab your knee right away. Scare tissue is harder than bone and every moment you wait will increase the time of rehab. I learned this rule laying on my couch in pain after my ACL replacement watching YouTube videos of very famous rehab clinics showing their patients on day-by-day videos walking backwards being at the same day after the surgery as I was! Always move your joints following the recommendations of a sports physiotherapist (use testimonials again to find one that is great with athletes)

I hope that helps anyone with a sore knee including my 19 year old student who deserves better. We have a great health care system in Canada and I never was asked to pay anything for a procedure but at the same time it is up to you to ask the right questions, which brings me to the last rule:

Rule # 6; Always do you research! Talk to your coaches, friends and doctors and listen closely. Always use the internet as the great resource it is and you will get back on the mats much faster than you think!

Don Whitefield

West Coast Martial Arts


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