This is a post that I wrote on my Health blog. It still has the links from my other site in it for additional info about different health related issues relevant to the post.
I’m sharing it here because it’s a question that I have often been asked… “I have this injury or health challenge, can I train?”
“Can I Train In A Grappling Martial Art If I Have A Disc Herniation?”
As a chiropractor, I have evaluated and treated thousands of people with disc injuries and herniations over the last 26 years. I’ve also trained for 30 years + in martial arts including wrestling, judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and MMA. I have a 4th degree black belt in BJJ.
I only say all that to give some insight into where I am coming from for my answer below.
Giving a general answer and not necessarily one specific to you… A person can have a disc herniation and participate in a grappling based martial art but that is not the entire story.
A couple of things to mention about spinal disc injuries.
Getting an appropriate evaluation and treatment if necessary is important. It can’t be a few minutes with a doctor that looks at a radiologists interpretation of a spinal MRI to know how the disc herniation is effecting you.
Many people have disc herniations that are not causing them much or even any problems. In other words, a herniation can be in an area of pain a person is experiencing but not be the source of their particular symptom. It depends.
Disc herniations do change over time. A herniation in some cases can be reduced just through your body’s own processes.
Getting to the question you asked, a person might be able to train and even compete in grappling martial arts with a disc herniation.
In some, it may not be a great idea to do a particular type of training, sport, or martial art – it depends. If you have a very knowledgeable doctor, ask them about your case.
If participating in a program then talk to your instructor about the problem. If the instructor is knowledgeable then he/she can help you reduce some risks.
You still need to be responsible for your self and your safety. Try to avoid a movement that might be a problem for your particular issue.
I have had a very large number of students in my gym, Texarkana Jiu Jitsu, that have been fine even though they had pre-existing neck or back injuries including disc herniations and many have had past spinal surgeries.
Different martial arts have different skills they train and develop. The specific grappling art may have potential problems for a person with a disc injury/problem. Different gyms/schools within the same martial art may use higher risk training techniques and classes. The same thing may even be true for instructors within the same school running different types of classes.
At my gym, Texarkana Jiu Jitsu, we put a higher emphasis on safety and safe training because of my own background in health, exercise, martial arts, and of course being a Doctor of Chiropractic.
If you’re doctor clears you and you want to train in a grappling based martial art, then training safely will be important for you.
For example if you have a lower back disc problem, avoiding being stacked under pressure/weight would be a priority. Certain types of games might not be ideal like using different types of closed guard movements may increase your risk – triangles, armbars, etc.
Another example – if you have a disc herniation in your neck, then avoiding inversions would be a great idea as would learning to focus on avoiding people grabbing your head or strongly cross facing you on the ground.
If it were wrestling it might mean developing excellent upper body controls and throws instead of leg attacks, etc.
Similar ideas would apply to MMA, Judo or Sambo.
What you should do…
So getting clearance from your doctor, telling your martial arts instructor, your new team mates, and adopting a game that reduces risks to a problem area are all very good ideas. Again – for some people it might not be the best activity at least right now.
If you are having related neck pain, back pain, or other symptoms then I highly recommend seeing a good chiropractor for evaluation and treatment if it’s indicated. Chiropractic can often dramatically help people with disc injuries and disc herniations.
Unfortunately the real answer as to whether you should train in a grappling based martial art is… it depends.
Dr. Marc Hagebusch,
Texarkana Jiu Jitsu