Rib injuries are unfortunately fairly common in BJJ training and many BJJ athletes hurt their ribs at one time or another. I recently injured my ribs so I wanted to know if can train BJJ while recovering from a rib injury, so I did some research and tried it out myself.
You should not train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu hard while recovering from a rib injury. Rib injuries are easy to aggravate and your total time off the mats might increase if you inflame the injury again. Performing gentle movements but only towards the end of the recovery period is helpful.
Let’s go into some specifics on what these injuries look like and how to handle these situations if they come up. Keep in mind that you should always consult your doctor for an official diagnosis.
What Are Rib Injuries That Occur in BJJ?
Rib injuries can happen through blunt force trauma from a takedown or simply very heavy pressure while training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, usually from a stacked position.
Because ribs are located on your torso, you can’t treat an injured or broken rib with the traditional cast that supports the bone or puts it back into place. Therefore, the most common treatment is simply recovery time, which means simply allowing the injury to run its course and heal naturally.
As you’re about to see, you can speed up the recovery post-injury. However, while the ribs are still healing, you should stay off the mat as much as possible. While your injury shouldn’t severely hamper your day-to-day life, rib injuries can worsen if you act irresponsibly and aggravate the area.
Since ribs can’t be reinforced with a traditional cast, and they encase vital organs, turning a fracture or a broken rib into an internal puncture wound into your organs is a real possibility with pressure or blunt force trauma to the site. These conditions can evolve into life-threatening medical issues such as Flail Chest or a punctured lung.
Depending on your rib injury, it can take a variety of timelines before you can safely return to the mats. Even in that case, you should consider what’s possible for you to do within safe limits. Once again, please consult your doctor to make a plan for your individual case.
Generally speaking, it takes about 6 weeks to reach a point of feeling relatively symptom-free for minor rib injuries like a dislocated rib or a minor fraction.
However, in general, if you are pain-free you can return to light drilling and light sparring with trusted training partners. This means picking somebody responsible and potentially lighter than you to test the waters before you dive into competition-style training. Tell your partners about your recovering ribs before you drill or roll so that everybody can try to work around it for as long as possible.
These are some of the things you can do to speed up your early stages of recovery.
- Take anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen (within moderation).
- Use an ice pack off and on for the first 48 to 72 hours.
- Rest for as long as needed.
- Breathe and cough gently to clear mucus in the lungs.
- Use pillows to prop you more upright during the first night to relieve the pressure that would transfer from your back through to your ribs.
- Use a heating pad to promote blood flow to the injury site. Keep in mind this promotes inflammation but in a way that may speed up injury healing time.
You can also find out more about the exercises to practice to speed up recovery in the video below:
If you have been training BJJ for a while, you know that mild rib injuries are not uncommon in this combat sport. Most of these injuries are not long-lasting, and they only involve the ribs’ soft tissue.
Some of the most common soft tissue injuries involve:
- Bruising – bruising happens when a blood vessel ruptures as a consequence of a blow or impact. These breakages cause the blood to leak into the tissue, causing noticeable bruising.
- Intercostal strain – intercostal strains are a strain of the muscles that connect the ribs and are responsible for their movements. You might experience this after repeated or forceful movements.
Depending on the severity of the soft tissue injury you’re facing, you might need to stay off the mat for 3 to 6 weeks. I would recommend taking time off the mats until you feel relatively symptom-free.
Returning To Train After a Fractured Rib
Fractured ribs are a more severe injury than bruised ribs, but they’re still a reasonably common BJJ issue. Depending on the fracture’s severity, this injury might take up to 12 weeks to heal. You’re ready to cautiously return to the mat when you have had no symptoms for a week but monitor the situation closely.
In BJJ, fractures can also occur in the cartilage and not in the actual rib bones themselves. This is the most common rib injury and tends to happen a lot in powerful twisting motions as well as when getting stacked in a stack pass or when you get stacked in a triangle or armbar from guard.
Rib injuries can stem from any blow, accident, or impact. These are common in BJJ, but you should still refrain from returning to rolling as long as you have a fractured rib. Indeed, a broken rib that slides out of place can damage internal organs such as the lungs, which can make the condition much more severe and leave you sidelined for much longer.
Returning To Train After a Broken Rib
Broken ribs actually heal on a similar time scale to fractured ribs, taking around 6 to 8 weeks to recover and you need to be cognizant of clearing your lungs and avoiding aggravating the injury. Since a broken rib is more likely to slide out of place I would be even more hesitant to put the area at risk since you could worsen the issue and cause lasting damage.
I would consult a doctor and get scans done that confirm that the bone is fused up and healed before I get back on the mats for this type of injury. Please consult your doctor before returning to the mats!
The last type of common rib injury is Costochondral separation or rib separation. This condition happens when the ribs become separated from the cartilage that connects them to the sternum (breastbone). Rib separation has a high reinjury risk in BJJ and months or years of recovery.
Separated ribs are very susceptible to reinjury since BJJ has a lot of direct pressure on that area. While ribs are disconnected they are more likely to interfere with organs in the area if they get further displaced or separated from the rest of the chest cavity.
Depending on the severity of the issue and whether or not multiple ribs are damaged you could end up requiring surgery. So don’t take the risk of turning a dislocation event that requires recovery time into an aggravated injury that turns into surgery plus recovery time!
This type of rib injury is pretty severe and can require a recovery period of as long as 2 to 3 months. You can’t return to the mat during this time because Costochondral separation is pretty likely to get aggravated through jiu-jitsu and can lead to life-threatening conditions.
Rib injuries are common and mostly manageable but require diligent recovery protocols since the possibility of worsening the injury is quite real. Believe me, you’re not alone in being excited to return to the mats, but it’s crucial to understand that you really need to respect the recovery period since the downsides of worsening a rib injury are pretty serious.
Most rib injuries will recover without the need for medical intervention, but this recovery time is essential from the risk of further injury perspective as well as from the perspective of risk versus reward on your total time off the mats.
For more check out 8 Tips To Train BJJ With a Finger Injury.