Finger Damage & BJJ


Things like: how-to tape your fingers, post training ice/heat therapy, finger stretches, etc… And while there is certainly value in the aforementioned things, there are some “bigger picture” ideas that need to be considered…

More specifically, too many people jump to the conclusion that IF you train jiu-jitsu, THEN you will have finger damage and/or loss of mobility. 

This article provides a few points to think about before concluding that training jiu-jitsu cases finger/joint damage. Let’s go!

7 Things to Consider Regarding Finger Damage & BJJ:

1. Keenan Trains More than You – Everything is Relative

He also trains at a higher intensity level and with world class training partners. Don’t feel bad, it isn’t just you… The fact is that Keenan is not the “normal” jiu-jitsu practitioner. To look at his “results” and to think that you will experience the same ones over a 10-year period is not a practical way of thinking.

2. Gripping the Gi is Tough On Your Fingersmiyao-hands

Gi grips place a lot of stress on your fingers. This is especially true when you look at the umbrella grip (pocket, 4-finger, spider) most commonly used in spider guard. Holding these grips can wear the skin off of your knuckles, forming calluses over time.

But MAKING grips isn’t the only danger… BREAKING of the grips is commonly accompanied with tears, fractures and sprains. Either way, umbrella grips are HIGH RISK!

3. Accidents Happen – It’s Not Always the Grips

Injuries that are not directly related with gripping must also be considered. Some of the nastiest finger injuries I’ve seen over the years would be considered “accidents” or “flukes.” In a split-second your fingers can be destroyed if they become entangled in someone’s gi during a scramble situation. Nasty stuff. And, when you consider point #1, the more time you spend on the mats the greater your chances of encountering “accidents.”

4. Finger Damage is a Widespread – It’s Not Just BJJkarate-knuckles

It’s important to keep in mind that finger injuries occur in almost all contact sports, not just jiu-jitsu. Football, wrestling, karate, rugby… there are countless examples of people who have almost zero mobility in their finger(s) from an injury they incurred participating in their respective sport. Do “jiujitsu fingers,” or the large calluses that result from umbrella grips, really result in lack of mobility? Or, perhaps because they are so noticeable”jiu-jitsu fingers” are acting as a scapegoat and taking attention off of the real cause or causes of finger damage.

5. Temporary vs Permanent Damage – Not Everything Lasts

Let’s assume that the 20% number Keenan uses is accurate. We still have no way of knowing how much mobility he would regain if he stopped training all together. In other words, how much of the mobility loss is permanent and how much could be regained through rest and rehabilitation (or just not training)? 

6. Symptoms vs Causes – Be Careful What You Treat

Sure you can tape, ice, stretch… but these things address the symptoms and not the cause. At the end of the day if you don’t want to damage your fingers in jiu-jitsu, don’t do jiu-jitsu… Obviously this is an extreme, but if you are looking for ways to prevent damage, this would appear to be effective. Reduce your training time and you reduce your chance of injury.

If you don’t want to reduce your training time, reduce the amount of time you spend in “high risk” gripping situations. One thing you can do immediately is to avoid using umbrella grips. But there’s a reason why the highest-level athletes continue to use umbrella grips… THEY WORK! So is the reduced risk worth giving up such an advantageous position? That’s for you to decide…

7. Our Bodies Break Down – Living Kills Us

Living has a way of killing us, doesn’t it? Doing anything repeatedly, over time, is going to have an effect on your body. If you train a martial art for your entire life, would you really expect to have LESS joint pain than someone who has not been training?

Let’s take it to another level… Think of all the people who have NEVER trained and still complain of joint pain or mobility in their fingers…

So, will training jiu-jitsu affect your finger mobility?

I think it’s safe to say that if you train jiu-jitsu, then you increase your chances damaging your fingers/loss of mobility. However, I don’t think that anyone can come to the conclusion that IF you train jiu-jitsu THEN you will suffer loss of mobility/finger damage.

Jiu-Jitsu is so dynamic that it’s almost impossible to create a controlled environment to study the effects on a single person, much less for the multitude of people that would need to be studied to draw any “real” conclusions.

What are you thoughts?