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How to prevent neck injuries in BJJ

How to Prevent Neck Injuries and Maintain the health of the Neck in BJJ

By Matt Ho APAM

In our last article, we looked at how neck injuries occur in Jiu Jitsu and how to adequately manage acute and chronic neck pain.  Here, we will look at ways at preventing neck injuries including rolling strategies, range of motion and strengthening options.


Avoiding Neck Injuries

Jiu Jitsu, and most other grappling martial arts, requires significant amounts of neck activity.  Often practitioners will post their head on the mat for balance or use their neck as a wedge, preventing escapes from certain positions.  Alternatively, the neck can be put into disadvantageous positions during neck strangles and cranks. These positions are usually ok, but become dangerous when the neck is no longer in a mechanically advantageous position:  think about a neck excessively rotated or flexed to the side in a guillotine or D’Arce. As previously outlined, it is generally at the extremes of range where neck injuries occur.  So ensuring the neck is relatively close to midline is an important rolling strategy to injury avoidance.  Other strategies include:

-Regularly change position:  Prolonged poor neck posture is likely to lead to some form of tissue damage.  Playing guard, for example, can lead to a lot of cervical (neck) flexion for long periods, so try to mix up your game regularly, and try some passing!

-Don’t be afraid to tap!  Fighting out of submissions, particularly neck strangles, will invariably lead to situations where neck tissues are pushed beyond their limits.  If you are training and in a tight choke, tap to save your neck, unless you are really confident of escaping.

-Mix up gi and no-gi:  Because of the different levels of friction and grappling styles, you will likely encounter different strangle situations and neck positions in gi and no-gi jiu jitsu, effectively avoiding prolonged postures.

-Warm up:  do some basic active range of motion exercises prior to rolling.  This will hopefully improve the length temporarily of soft tissues in the neck and allowing for an extended range of motion before injury occurs.  These should also improve the body’s awareness of where the neck is in space, and help to maintain relatively neutral neck posture.


Neck Maintenance

Like all parts of the body, the cervical spine will benefit from a physical maintenance program.  There are two main elements to consider:  neck range of motion and neck strength.


Neck range of motion can be maintained or improved by completing both active (neck only) and passive (other forces helping) range of motion exercises.  These should be completed regularly for the best results (up to once per day).  Using your hands to gently push your neck forward and back (flexion/Extension), Side to side (lateral flexion) and around (rotation) will help to maintain neck range of motion.  You can even use a towel to help attain the extra range.  

Neck Strengthening may well be the most important factor in preventing injury.  If your neck is more able to deal with the increased forces required during a jiu jitsu session, you are less likely to push the tissue to the point of injury.  Here are some examples of simple strengthening exercises:


Against gravity:  These use gravity to provide resistance, and are a great place to start if you are new to jiu jitsu or neck strengthening.


Theraband:  These use a band for resistance for neck movements, and are a great intermediate option that lacks compressive forces through the neck


Theraband flexion

Theraband rotation

Theraband lateral flexion

Bridges:  A favorite of wrestlers, these are end game exercises for neck strength.  They are especially useful, as they mimic some of the positions you will encounter during a session.  But beware:  these are not for the rookie.  Due to the compressive forces through the cervical vertebrae and discs, there is a heightened risk of injury, so take your time to build up!  You can use a fitball up against a wall to build up to full bridges. 


Neck bridge

The neck is one of the most important structures when it comes to grappling sports.  So look after it, and it may even become a weapon!

For any further information on preventing neck injuries or any other BJJ injuries please contact us at the clinic or book online

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