Rib Injuries

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BJJ/MMA Related Rib Injury

BJJ Jiu Jitsu MMA

As I sit here at my computer writing this post… I am suffering from separated cartilage in my lower ribs due to a Jiu Jitsu injury. 

If you have a rib injury and you are feeling bummed out its OK, I know exactly how you are feeling. I was six weeks away from going to the Worlds for the first time and I had been training long and hard for it!

Trust me; I had tear in my beer after I got injured and it was not from rib pain.

I thought I would pass on some information that I have found helpful to me. If you are suffer from a rib injury this information may help you get back on the mat faster.

BJJ – What is a rib injury?

BJJ Jiu Jitsu MMA

The 12 ribs on each side of your chest may be bruised, strained, broken, or separated. All of the ribs are attached to the vertebrae (backbone) in the rear. In the front, 10 of them are attached to the sternum (breastbone) by pieces of cartilage.

Direct blows to the ribs may bruise or break the ribs or injure the rib cartilage. The ribs may tear away from the cartilage that attaches them to the breastbone. This tearing away from the cartilage is called a costochondral separation. If a rib cartilage gets inflamed it is called costochondritis.

BJJ – How does it occur?

Rib injuries usually result from a direct blow to the chest wall. Breaks usually occur in the curved portion of the outer part of the rib cage.

A costochondral separation may occur from an injury, when you land hard on your feet, Jiu Jitsu, MMA or even when coughing or sneezing violently.

My separation occurred when I was passing my partners Spider Guard and his knee got caught under my rib cage, his knee went one way and my body moved the other way. It’s a strange and somewhat painful sensation to feel your ribs move in opposite directions.

Costochondritis may be caused by an infection, repeated coughing, or overuse, such as rowing or heavy lifting. Sometimes the cause is not known.

BJJ – What are the symptoms?

A rib injury causes pain and tenderness over the place of injury. You may have pain when you breathe, move, laugh, or cough.

BJJ – How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms, examine the rib cage, and listen to your lungs. He or she may order a chest X-ray to look for rib damage, lung damage, or bleeding around the lungs. A clicking or popping sound in your ribs when you move is usually torn or separated cartilage.

BJJ – How is it treated?

To help your injury heal, your provider may recommend that you:

  • Rest
  • Put an ice pack over the injured rib for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory or other pain medicine
  • Wear a rib belt. This is sometimes used for very painful injuries. The belt works as a girdle for your chest and helps support the ribs. It limits movement when coughing, breathing, or moving the body in other ways. This helps decrease pain. If you wear a rib belt, your provider will give you breathing exercises to help them avoid lung problems.

BJJ – How long will the effects last?

Bruised ribs and a costochondral separation usually take 3 to 4 weeks to heal. Broken ribs take 6 to 8 weeks to heal.

BJJ – When can you return to normal activities?

BJJ Jiu Jitsu MMA

Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Returning to your activities will be determined by how soon your ribs recover, not by how many days or weeks it has been since the injury has occurred.

The goal of your rib rehabilitation is to return to the mat as soon as it is possible. If you return too soon you may worsen and prolong your injury.

If you re-injury your ribs… that means you will be staying off the mat for even a longer period of time! It is better to be safe than sorry with this type of injury. I personally know of two people that this type of injury has ended their Jiu Jitsu training forever because they came back too soon.

Your healthcare provider may take an X-ray to see that the bone has healed before he or she allows you to return to normal activities. Your child may participate in non-contact activities if they can do so without pain in the ribs and without pain when breathing.

BJJ – When should you call your healthcare provider?

Call immediately or go to the emergency room if:

  • You have worsening pain
  • You have trouble breathing

BJJ – This is what I am currently doing to rehab my rib injury:

  • Rest – three to four weeks
  • Rest means – being off the mat completely and very limited exercises, I am in Jiu Jitsu for the long haul. I want to make sure that my cartilage has a chance to calcify and heal properly. I want this to be a short term injury, not a long term one. Now… that’s smart thinking… isn’t it?
  • Compression tape or rib belt
  • Anti-inflammatory – Ibuprofen 
  • Plenty of sleep, your body is in the healing phase when you are sleeping
  • No twisting or rotating exercises
  • Walking or riding a stationary bike to keep up my cardio, during my rest period
  • Deep Breathing Exercises
  • Watching my Jiu Jitsu classes during my rest period, it’s amazing what you can learn just by watching and listening to your professor. Plus, how can I stay away from something that I love for four weeks?
  • Light Jiu Jitsu drilling for at least two weeks
  • Light rolling with a “good and trusted partner” for two weeks, I will test my ribs for any pain or discomfort. If there is any pain or discomfort, I will go back to light drilling or a short rest phase.

Nutritional Supplements that I am taking to support cartilage growth and repair:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Fish oils, Omega 3′s are anti-inflammatory
  • Methysulfonylmethane or MSM
  • Green Superfood

Cartilage is one of the slowest healing tissues in the body because of its poor blood supply. This is why I am making sure that I have plenty of rest and nutritional supplements in my body to speed up the healing process.

I know how hard it is to stay off the mat. Just remember… you have long term goals with Jiu Jitsu. As one of my coaches told me “this is just part of your Jiu Jitsu Journey” and he is right. If you rehab your ribs properly you will only be out for a short period of time and this injury will be a distant memory.

See you on the mat, after my ribs heal properly!

Bryan Mandrell

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Note: This page is for educational purposes only. BJJ Breakthrough is not diagnosing or treating any injuries. Always consult your doctor whenever you feel you have an injury.

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6 comments

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  1. Eric Mann

    Great article. Just got my first BJJ rib injury.
    Thank you !

    1. Sorry to hear about your ribs. I’m glad you liked the article and good luck with your injury.

      See you on the mat soon!

      Bryan Mandrell

  2. Frederik

    Thanks for sharing your experience with this particular injury. My “jiu jitsu journey” gave one of these just four days ago. I believe I only gave it a strain, but still I realize I have to be careful.

    I got mine when I tried to escape an oncoming rear mount (no-gi). I twisted my body around in at screwing motion and nearly transferred into his full guard. That’s when I felt a painful pop in my ribs that blew the air out my lungs.

    It only hurts during certain movements now, and whenever I don’t feel the pain I immediately want to get back on the mat. But the thought of re-bruising the strained cartilage is worse. You’re right about “the long haul” and I will try to remember this whenever I get impatient. But man do I get impatient…

    1. Sorry to hear about your rib injury.

      I know its hard to stay off the mat but you are right “re-bruising” your ribs will keep you off the mat much longer. After I wrote this article and stayed off the mats until my ribs were pain free.

      I bought a flack jacket (a padded vest) that is used by football or lacrosse players. I have worn it for about a month and it has made a huge difference.

      One of the things that I noticed when I started rolling again was that I was pretty skittish. The flack jacket really helped me to focus on rolling and not worrying about my ribs getting re-injured.

      I will probably wear it for a few more weeks just to be on the safe side but I am pain free and have started working on my takedowns again.

      Trust me, I went through a low period and it was hard to stay off the mats but it was well worth being smart and patient!

      Good luck on your Jiu Jitsu journey and let us know how you recovered from your rib injury!

      See you on the mat soon!

      Bryan Mandrell

      1. Frederik

        Back on the mat!

        At long last I have returned to fight another day.
        I patiently waited about 2 months off mat and my rib is now healed enough to train techniques as well as spar. During my healing (a month in) I started doing some light work out to stay in shape – some different light core exercises. My cardio has clearly been a victim as expected.

        At one point during sparing I felt a very small pain in my ribs. I couldn’t be sure it was the it was the injury, but my response was to swiftly stop the movement. I’ll take no chances. But I didn’t feel like had to hold back much otherwise.

        I couldn’t believe how great it was to roll again. I’m still high from the experience. I didn’t do much else than tap (I defended some of the attempts though) and gasp for breath. But all the way home I had a smile on my face.

        I’m glad now I was this patient.

        1. Frederik,

          Great to hear you are back on the mat!

          I always find it amazing how fast your cardio can get out “mat” shape.

          I’m happy to see that you have your long-term goal in front of you and you were patient in your healing. I’m sure you will be back to your old form in no time.

          Thanks for keeping us updated!

          See you on the mat.

          Bryan Mandrell

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