Recovering From a BJJ Rib Injury
Updated: Apr 24
Have you recently injured your rib whilst training BJJ?
We have written this post to help you recover as quickly as possible. So that you can get back to the mats as sooner rather than later!
Of course this advice, from us - a fightwear brand - should be taken as secondary to any advice that you receive directly from a medical professional.
Your rib cage consists of 12 ribs, with muscles and tendons
between each rib.
In a contact sport and martial art as physical as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the ribs are certainly some what vulnerable.
Especially when there is a significant weight difference between yourself and your partner!
A rib injury can manifest in a bruising or a tear of the soft tissue that surrounds the ribs and in more serious cases a fracture or complete breakage of the rib itself.
If the pain from your rib injury is intense, persistent and breathing is especially difficult. Then your rib may be broken and will require the attention of a medical professional.
However even a bruised rib can mean weeks or months of recovery with no training!
We’ve got you covered though…
We are passionate about decreasing the commonality of jiu jitsu injuries. And because minor rib injuries are one of the most commonly suffered injuries of BJJ. We thought a guide to treating the injury from the comfort of your own home was in order!
We all know how much it sucks to have to miss even one class of BJJ never mind several weeks!
HOW TO ACHIEVE IMMEDIATE RELIEF:
STEP 1: Ice Therapy
Ice therapy is fantastic for decreasing the pain and swelling of your injured rib.
Here’s what you need to remember when icing your rib injury:
Ice therapy is most effective within the first 48 hours.
Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Instead wrap you’re ice pack in something thick enough to protect the skin. A small towel works well. This is in order to prevent burns and nerve damage.
Use the ice pack to massage you’re injury rather than just holding it in one spot. This prevents ice burns and provides more relief to your rib. Circular or linear motions are great but be gentle since rib injuries can be quite sensitive!
Keep you’re eye on the clock. It is not recommended to ice an injury for any longer than 20 minutes.
Provide at least 45 minutes between each icing session.
If you don’t have an ice pack to treat your BJJ rib injury a bag of frozen peas works great!
Ice is a fantastic means of immediately addressing the pain, swelling and inflammation of your BJJ rib injury!
STEP 2: Heat Therapy
Heat therapy otherwise known as thermo-therapy will boost the recovery from your BJJ rib injury. As well as sooth the pain during the process. Here's what you need to know about heat therapy when it comes to a BJJ rib injury:
Heat therapy can take the form of a heating pad, a hot cloth, a hot water bottle, a hot bath or hot tub and other means.
We recommend moist heat therapy as opposed to dry heat therapy. Moist heat is better able to access and provide benefit to the necessary tissue without causing the hot burns and sores possible with dry heat therapy.
Hot baths/tubs, steamed towels and moist heat packs are all great methods of moist heat therapy.
Moist heat therapy will dilate the tiny blood vessels in the surrounding soft tissue of your ribs, increasing the blood flow.
The increased blood flow nourishes the tissue with all the essential nutrients and oxygen necessary to accelerate the healing process.
Here’s some tips for applying moist heat therapy to your BJJ rib injury:
Have your heat source at a temperature of around 115 degrees Fahrenheit or 46 degrees Celsius for optimal benefit.
Ensure you have enough insulation between skin and the heat source in order to prevent hot burns and sores.
A 48 hour period of intermittent moist heat therapy should be applied after a 48 hour period of intermittent icing (Step 1).
Apply the moist heat therapy for 15 minutes every hour whilst at home to experience the optimal benefit.
OPTIONAL STEP 3: Pain Medication
Sometimes the pain can be so severe that all the other means of mitigating it are just not enough and pain medication is necessary.
If this is the case..
Seek the advice of a medical professional so that you can be sure that you are taking the correct dose.
Pain killers often come with nasty side effects which will only amplify if you persistently use them.
Accept that when your injured you are going to experience some pain. Do not get in the habit of going straight to the pain medication whenever you suffer pain from an injury.
We advise you to follow the advise of your doctor first and foremost with regards to pain medication and BJJ injuries in general.
Do Not Wrap Your Ribs
Wrapping the ribs following an injury used to be a common medical practice. In the modern age however we have found that this often causes more harm than good.
Wrapping the ribs can restrict your breathing and therefore lead to conditions like Pneumonia, among other problems.
STEP 4: Recovering Right
The most important step in healing your BJJ rib injury is of course recovery.
Unfortunately this doesn’t mean that you can just lie about at home all day binge watching your favorite TV shows…
There is a right way and a wrong way when it comes to recovery…
1. Active Recovery
Resting the body from intense exercise whilst still undergoing everyday activities that require a low level of exercise without irritating your rib like taking the dog for a walk.
This has a series of benefits:
You are articulating the joints which is good for maintaining mobility and preventing stiffness’.
You are also providing fresh air to the lungs, pumping blood through the arteries and most of all taking your mind off your rib injury.
This form of recovery as opposed to just lying dormant at home eating dorito’s and binge watching television, is far superior for obvious reasons.
Engage in an active recovery!
2. Get Enough Rest
Whilst it is important for us to have an active recovery it is also important for us to get enough rest in between our activity.
For your BJJ rib injury to optimally heal you must ensure that your getting enough rest.
One obvious way in which you can ensure you are getting good rest is by providing your body with a consistent sleeping routine of at least 8 hours a night. Also go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day.
You should also take time to cease all work and movement for periods of the day and to simply sit and recuperate. Whilst sitting you can be reading or watching videos which brings us on to our next point…
3. Rest The Body Not The Mind
It is essential to keep the mind active and occupied with different tasks whilst you are recovering from your BJJ rib injury.
This will prevent you from becoming bored and frustrated.
Not being able to train BJJ or do everyday things, like go to work, can become very isolating if you don’t stimulate your mind.
Stimulating the mind can mean as little as watching a movie or playing with the dog.
You can also read, explore the web, get lost in conversation with friends and family or anything else that you will keep your mind active, engaging with the world and distracted from your rib injury.
You may choose to focus your energy on BJJ and expanding your theoretical understanding of the art. There are some great BJJ books you can get your hands on and also an abundance of online learning courses. As well as a never ending stream of YouTube videos of course.
Engage in stimulating activities that will develop your understanding and increase your perspective not just of BJJ but what ever you want: read, watch movies, talk to neighbors, friends and relatives, explore the web or just enjoy a movie.
4. Sleep Upright
Rib injuries are particularly problematic during sleep, especially if you typically sleep on your stomach, or on your sides or roll around frequently.
In order to manage the inflammation and pain we recommend that you sleep upright, this can achieved in a couple of ways:
Prop yourself up in bed with cushions behind your back and head.
Or sleep on a reclining chair or any form of upright seat that you are comfortable sleeping in.
Sleeping up right will help in a series of ways:
It will prevent you from being able to move around to much and irritate or further injure your rib during your sleep.
It will also minimize pain, inflammation and discomfort, allowing you to sleep easier.
Doing this for more than a few nights can however cause tightness’ in the lower back…
A good way to mitigate this is to place a pillow underneath your knees as you sleep, this will take pressure off your lumbar spine and help to prevent lower back pain.
People who move about a lot during there sleep may want to place to pillows either side of there body in order to provide further support.
5. Manage Your Breathing (and Coughing)
Breathing and coughing with a rib injury can be difficult and often painful.
It it important though to try to breath and cough as normal to avoid complications like chest infections.
The jerking motion generated when coughing can be very painful and unfortunately when you need to cough, you need to cough.
A great way to reduce the pain to your ribs whilst coughing is to hold a pillow over your ribs. This will reduce that jerking motion and soften the impact to your injury.
With regards to breathing it is important to take deep breaths frequently through the course of the day. This will prevent chest infections and nasty conditions like pneumonia.
Every few minutes, try to take a good deep breath, with a prolonged inhale, and a slow exhale.
If your ribs are so damaged that this seems out of the question, try to do it on the hour, every hour.
There are loads of great breathing exercises which you can try once breathing becomes reasonably comfortable again.
For example: try inhaling slowly for 3 seconds and then holding your breath for 3 seconds, and then slowly exhaling for a further 3 seconds. Repeat this pattern for a few minutes, a few times a day.
6. Natural Pain Relief and Anti-Inflammatories
If you are wanting to avoid the nasty side effects of pharmaceutical pain killers but still provide some pain and inflammation relief to your injured rib during the recovery process here are two great options for you!
Cannabidiol, better known as CBD is a naturally occurring substance and remedy. It can be used for a variety of ailments including pain relief and anti-inflammation.
You can buy cream which can be applied directly to your rib to manage the pain and inflammation. You can also purchase CBD oil for the more general effects. The oil can be consumed in a number of ways.
CBD is one of the 104 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant.
Cannabis has been used by humans to relieve pain since as far back as 2,900 B.C.
The main psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana is called THC. This is what causes the “high” that’s often attributed to Cannabis. However, unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive.
CBD is a great option for those looking for pain relief but not wanting to get high or take pharmaceutical drugs.
CBD oil/cream would be a great choice for aiding the recovery of your BJJ rib injury.
Turmeric is a plant of the ginger family also known as ‘Curcuma Longa’. The root is often used as a spice in curry dishes but is also claimed to have vast medical benefits.
It is the anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties of the herb that we are interested in.
Turmeric has within it: curcumins, which give it that anti-inflammatory punching power that it is known for.
Mix the turmeric with coconut oil and black pepper in order to enhance the effect of the curcumin!
Heat up a good chunk of coconut oil in a pan. Add the turmeric and black pepper and stir often until it becomes a golden paste.
This paste can be added to food dishes and if your crazy enough mixed into a smoothie. It doesn’t taste great in a smoothie I’ll be honest but it works really well with scrambled egg.
Try making a turmeric tea!
I have a turmeric tea every morning. With fresh turmeric root, ginger root, a slice of lemon and a drop of honey. This is another great way to receive the positive effects of the turmeric and it tastes great!
Give turmeric a try!
STEP 5: Rehabilitating Your Rib Injury
Once the initial symptoms of the injury have started to decrease it is time to begin rehabilitation. Usually within the first 72 hours the inflammation has decreased to a point from which you can begin to do some of the exercises.
The goal of this rehabilitation is to restore the strength, mobility and function of the surrounding soft tissue and muscles that support your rib cage.
We recommend the following stretches and exercises in order to do so.It is important that if you experience an increase in the symptoms of your injury that you stop that particular exercise immediately.
We thought we’d start you off easy…
Begin by standing tall. Arms relaxed and by your side, toes facing forwards and feet shoulders width apart.
Imagine there is a piece of string pulling you up from the top of your head, extending your posture and straightening your back.
Take a big slow inhale from the diaphragm. Gently breathing up into the torso allowing the chest to expand as much as is painless. Get a feel for how far you can go and then exercise within that range.
Stand tall and take long, deep breathes for 2 – 3 minutes at a time as often as you feel comfortable.
If you have practiced breathing exercises before you may be comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing. Which means to breath by contract the diaphragm muscle.
Diaphragmatic breathing is also known scientifically as eupnea, which is a natural and relaxed form of breathing in all mammals. This form of breathing is capable of producing a deeper fill of air into the lungs on inhalation and a higher volume of air released upon exhalation.
Don’t worry if your not capable of diaphragmatic breathing just yet it is something that takes practice. Just the act of circulating air in and out of your lungs and providing that minor exercise to the surrounding muscles and soft tissue of the rib is beneficial at this stage.
Shoulder Blade Squeezes:
This is a more technical exercise that will open up the muscles and soft tissue that surround your rib. These muscles may have become tight or inactive following your injury.
They may also have been slightly stretched or torn when the injury to your rib occurred.
For this exercise:
Pull your shoulders backwards and pinch the shoulder blades as closely together as is possible for you without causing further pain to your rib injury.
As you do so squeeze the scapular muscles of the upper back, which will lengthen the muscles of your torso and expand your chest out in front of you.
Now maintain good posture and hold this position for 2 -3 seconds.
Then slowly reverse the movement by rotating your shoulders back into their neutral position, allowing the chest to contract and the scapula muscles of your upper back to relax.
We recommend you repeat this movement for 8 – 10 reps at the start of every day.
Doorway Chest Stretch:
The doorway chest stretch will provide a good stretch for your pectoral muscles as well as the intercostal muscles between your ribs.
For this exercise:
Stand in a doorway, with your arms bent out to your sides at 90 degrees (as if an armed robber has told you to put your arms above your head).
Your finger tips should be pointing to the ceiling. It is the same position you would be in an overhead shoulder press with dumbbells.
From this position rest your forearms on either side of the door frame.
With your arms in this position, take a big inhale and, as you breathe out, slowly push your chest forward through doorway, keeping your arms on the frame.
Repeat for 8 – 10 reps, several times a day.
This will produce a lovely stretch across your pectoral muscles as well as the muscles of the shoulders and the intercostal muscles between the ribs.
STEP 6: Getting Back On The Tatami/Mats
Please follow the advise of a medical professional with regards to when it is safe to start intense activity again.
As Stephen Kesting of GrappleArts.com said in his post regarding jiu jitsu rib injuries:
“ALMOST EVERYONE RETURNS TO TRAINING TOO EARLY AFTER A RIB INJURY AND RE-INJURES THEMSELVES.“
Obviously this is something we want to avoid.
However if you want to get back to the mats sooner rather than later then you better start easy. No sparring, no stand up and no hard drilling. If you just jump back into the action as if the injury never happened you regret it. And as Stephen says re-injure yourself. Which is the last thing we want!
When you are over the initial symptoms of your injury it is a good idea to get back into the movement patterns of Jiu Jitsu. Shrimps, Upas, Sit outs etc. You could do this from the comfort of your own home but don’t over do it to begin with!
When heading back to Jiu Jitsu class; communicate with who ever is running the class. Discuss the fact that you are still recuperating following your BJJ rib injury and would like to take it easy until the injury is 100% healed.
Most gyms will accommodate you because it is not uncommon for people to be working with injuries in our sport.
If your coach is teaching a technique that involves pressure being put through your rib, opt to sit out. Or perform the drill with a trusted training partner of equal or lower body mass and be careful!
Obviously we recommend you sit out from sparring because it is the portion of the class most likely to harm your rib. However if you have trusted training partners, who are competent in BJJ and similar to or bellow your own body weight: then flow rolling may be an option for you.
Stand up techniques are particularly dangerous for someone with a healing rib injury because you often land on your ribs when on the receiving end. Therefore unless it is just light grip work avoid all stand up training until the injury is fully healed.
I know that you’ll be itching to get back on the mats by now. However the most important thing is that your rib injury is properly healed up! The last thing you want to do is to re-injure your rib so take it easy!
Conclusion – When Suffering A Jiu Jitsu Rib Injury – Be Pro-Active!
Whenever you suffer an injury that takes you off the mats for a while it SUCKS.
Did you know that there was so much that you can do yourself from home in order to boost your recovery?
Manage the initial pain and inflammation with ice therapy. As well as dilate the blood vessels and boost your recovery with heat therapy.
People often make simple mistakes made whilst recovering at home that can set you back weeks in recovery. However you Jiu Jitsu fanatic followers of this blog will know exactly how to recover the right way!
It is absolutely vital that you put work into the rehabilitation of your body post injury. Follow our tailored exercises for rehabilitating the surrounding muscles and soft tissue. Get back to mats in good form!
Be pro-active and help your body through the recovery process…
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