The Definitive Guide to Fixing BJJ Back Pain

BJJ back pain
BJJ back pain is a serious issue for many BJJ students.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a safe and healthy activity for people of all ages, but it can also take its toll on the body. One ailment commonly suffered by BJJ students (especially those who train BJJ after 40) is lower back pain. Many BJJ positions and movements place stress on the lower back—this often results in pain. Luckily, as discussed below, there are several methods available to help you choke out BJJ back pain.

BJJ back pain
Back pain is common in BJJ.

See a Doctor For BJJ Back Pain

First, if you suffer from BJJ back pain, see a doctor. Although lower back pain is often the result of strained muscles or ligaments (this is called “nonspecific” back pain), seeing a doctor or other medical professional is the only way to confirm that your lower back pain isn’t the result of a serious injury. Don’t take chances with your back—always seek medical attention at the onset of any type of back pain.

Adjust Your Game to Ease Your BJJ Back Pain

After you’ve met with a doctor and ruled out any serious underlying conditions, you can begin formulating a plan of attack for dealing with your lower back pain. A good place to start is your BJJ game. Are you a guard player? Do you invert frequently? Do you continue to fight for submissions from guard as you’re being stacked? Do you rely on explosive shrimping and bridging to escape bad positions? If so, your BJJ game may be the cause of your lower back pain.

Although it can be difficult to give up your “A game,” you should begin experimenting with positions and techniques that put less of a strain on your lower back. Not only will this help reduce your lower back pain, but it will improve your overall BJJ game as well. After all, BJJ is all about having fun and experimentation! Here are a few ways you can adjust your game to reduce your lower back pain.

(1) Become a Guard Passer

Although this certainly isn’t true for everyone, most people tend to focus on either passing the guard or playing guard—not both. As noted above, most guard players tend to develop lower back problems at some point in their BJJ careers. If you’re a guard player with lower back pain, you should work on your guard passing. Not only will this improve your lower back pain, but it will make you a more complete grappler.

A great style of passing to learn for grapplers with lower back pain is pressure passing. Pressure passing is a slow, methodical, grinding style of passing the guard. Since pressure passing slows the game down and doesn’t require you to perform explosive movements, you’ll drastically reduce your odds of straining your back when you incorporate it into your game.

If you want to learn pressure passing from the best, we recommend that you check out Bernardo Faria’s instructionals. Bernardo is a multiple-time BJJ world champion and arguably the greatest pressure passer in the game.

BJJ back pain
Bernardo Faria’s style of pressure passing is a great way to avoid BJJ back pain.

(2) Focus on BJJ Defense

BJJ students rarely work on their BJJ defense. Most BJJ practitioners prefer to spend their time at the academy working on new submissions, sweeps, takedowns, and other offensive maneuvers. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. However, many offensive BJJ techniques place a lot of stress on the lower back. Over time, this can result in chronic lower back pain. Therefore, if you suffer from back pain, you should spend at least some of your time working on your BJJ defense. Not only will playing a defensive BJJ style give your back a rest, but it will make you a much better grappler.

If you want to improve your defensive BJJ, a great source of knowledge is Priit Mihkelson. Priit is an Estonian BJJ black belt who has developed a unique and highly effective system of BJJ defense. His material is the gold standard for BJJ defense.

BJJ back pain
Priit Mihkelson’s revolutionary defensive BJJ system is a great way to avoid BJJ back pain.

Get started with Priit’s system here:

Strengthen Your Back to Alleviate BJJ Back Pain

A weak back is more susceptible to pain. Therefore, if you’re suffering from BJJ back pain, you should considering strengthening your back. There are several things outside of BJJ that you can do to strengthen and stretch your back, all of which can alleviate pain, including:

(1) Work on Your Core Strength

Your core is partially made up of your abdominal and back muscles. A weak core is a surefire way to develop lower back pain. A strong core, on the other hand, can do wonders for your back pain. Everything from strength training with weights to stability ball work can improve your core strength. Here are some tips from Rener Gracie on how to strengthen your core for BJJ.

(2) Do Some Yoga

Many BJJ practitioners swear by Yoga as a supplemental exercise. Not only can Yoga reduce stress and improve your balance, flexibility, and strength, but it can reduce or eliminate your lower back pain. Even if you don’t want to join a yoga class, there are loads of instructional materials online to help get you started. Downward dog, child’s pose, and upward dog are all particularly good poses for reducing back pain.

Learn Yoga for BJJ here:

(3) Go Swimming

Not only is swimming great exercise, but it can also help alleviate lower back pain. The front crawl and backstroke are particularly effective at reducing BJJ back pain. In addition to stretching out and strengthening your back, swimming causes the body to release endorphins, which are natural painkillers.

(4) Invest in an Inversion Table for BJJ Back Pain

Inversion tables provide a natural, passive way to target lower back pain. When you use an inversion table, your body weight and gravity combine to decompress your spine. For many people, including UFC commentator Joe Rogan, this decompression results in a drastic reduction in lower back pain. Decompression is particularly important for BJJ practitioners, as many of the positions in BJJ compress the spine, resulting in moderate to severe back pain.

We recommend the following inversion tables:

Teeter EP-560

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Teeter FitSpine X3

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(5) Invest in a Massage Gun

Everyone knows that massages feel great and are a fantastic way to reduce pain. However, not everyone has the time or money to get professional massages regularly. If regular professional massages are out of the question for you, you should look into investing in a massage gun. A massage gun is a handheld device that allows you to reap the benefits of a professional massage in the comfort of your own home. Clearly, this can be enormously beneficial if you are a BJJ practitioner with lower back pain. In addition to helping reduce lower back pain, massage guns:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve circulation
  • Eliminate toxins
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve flexibility
  • Enhance immunity
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Sports injuries

Trust us, once you start using a massage gun, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

We recommend the following massage guns:

TimTam Power Massager

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TimTam Power Massager Pro

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(6) Do Reverse Hyperextensions

The reverse hyperextension is an exercise that targets multiple areas of the body, including the small muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the lower back. This exercise can be performed perform either with or without equipment, although we recommend that you invest in a reverse hyper machine to obtain maximum benefits from this exercise.

The reverse hyperextension machine was invented by famed powerlifter Louie Simmons in 1974.  After severely damaging his back 1973, doctors recommended that Louie undergo back surgery. Finding this unacceptable, Louie began experimenting with alternative methods of treatment. In his quest to fix his back without surgery, Louie eventually invented the reverse hyperextension machine. Louie claims that by performing reverse hyperextensions on his reverse hyper machine, he successfully rehabilitated his back. Here is a demonstration of how to perform the reverse hyperextension.

BJJ Back Pain is Part of the Journey

You’re bound to experience setbacks during your BJJ journey, including bumps, bruises, and injuries. However, by following the tips above, lower back pain doesn’t have to be one of them! See you on the mats!

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