Finger injuries, joint pain, and soreness are common if you’ve ever trained in Jiu-Jitsu. Fighting for hand position and holding on to your opponent’s gi for dear life are only some of the ways those precious digits can get banged up. Fingers can be critical to securing grips, and grips are critical for positional gains. This isn’t always true of course, but no doubt fingers are at high risk for injury.
Grapplers use every part of their body to help gain leverage in the battle. This is especially true about their hands and fingers. Since these body parts are often on the front lines, they are subject to heavy abuse. BJJ puts our fingers at risk basically all the time. From hand fighting to grip fighting, spider guard playing, combat jiu-jitsu, or just squeezing a collar choke, we put our fingers at risk during every roll.
Establishing and maintaining proper grips is a foundation for initiating offense in grappling arts. They are even more integral when the kimono is involved in arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, and Sambo. Whether it is no-gi or gi, grips are critical for throws, chokes, joint submission, sweeps, and guard passes. Matches are often won when someone is able to execute their grips over their opponent as it is such an important part of the art and sport.
Types of Finger Joints
If you have achy fingers or consistent joint pain, it’s good to know a little about the finger joints themselves.
The finger is made up of three joints:
- Metacarpophalangeal Joint – MCP Joint
- Proximal Interphalangeal Joint – PIP joint
- Distal Interphalangeal Joint – DIP Joint
- Carpometacarpal Joint – CMC (Thumb Only)
Typically, joints involved with grip injuries are often the PIP and DIP joints. As you can see in the image above these are the joints nearest your fingertips. The volar plate is a ligament on the front of the knuckle that helps prevent hyperextension. You also have collateral ligaments on the sides of the joint that help to prevent bending to the sides.
Jiu-Jitsu Finger Injuries
Since grips are so important, it is not surprising to see injuries happen on the mat. Many grapplers have a history of finger joint pain even when they have not had any major finger injury.
Josh Hinger dislocated his finger in a training session at Atos HQ in a video that was passed around the Jiu-Jitsu interwebs. Josh shot in for a takedown on Cat Zingano and suffered a finger dislocation on his left hand. Another training partner is seen immediately “popping” it back into place after this dislocation.
A dislocation like Hinger’s may seem rare, but it’s not uncommon in grappling rooms. If you’ve been around the mats for any amount of time, you know this to be true. Fingers are almost always at some risk, and we can see, it doesn’t matter if you’re training in gi or no-gi. It doesn’t take getting your fingers wrapped up in a gi to experience grotesque finger dislocation.
Finger Treatment and Healing
If you have an injured finger it’s important to give it the proper time to heal. Not allowing time to heal could cause further damage. This may include drilling easily for a while in place of your regular sparing time. Time is of the best healing mechanisms.
If a dislocation happens to you or to a training partner in class, you should go to the ER to confirm there is no finger fracture. This can be done with an X-Ray to rule out any fracture and ensure that further surgical management isn’t necessary.
BJJ practitioners often have injuries that begin with damage to these ligaments in the fingers. Constant use and stress cause small sprains, which can lead to ligaments being overly stretched and even partial tears. The ligament is much more likely to rupture completely if the ligaments are overly stressed, which leads to dislocation. This isn’t always the case and freak accidents are a risk when training in any physical activity. Yes, that is heightened when practicing a hobby that involves physically choking and submitting each other.
With repeated stress and dislocations of the joints, arthritis will often begin. This commonly begins with stiffness, general aches, and restricted movement. As arthritis progresses, so will the limited mobility and increase in instability. Meaning, the more you injure your fingers, the more likely you are to develop arthritis, thus making it that much more likely for injury. The joints will tend to enlarge in these damaged areas, much like those common Black Belt hands, or Herpender’s knuckles, we’ve all seen.
Icing is another great option when those fingers are getting tight and sore. This is more temporary relief but can help ease the pain and initial inflammation.
As Josh Hinger said in his post, taping can be a good option to minimize these injuries. Taping a few fingers may help mitigate injuries, but it does not rule out the risk of finger injuries. If you tape your fingers correctly, it can lessen the pressure on the joints.
Josh Hinger’s Instagram
Avoid this by taping your fingers with @monkeytape, which just happens to be on sale today. 25% off until the end of the day.
BJJ finger tape is a popular item in grapplers’ gym bags since we use our hands all the time. Actual BJJ tape should be used and not medical tape, as it has superior sticky residue and consistency. When you are actively pulling, ripping, and sweating, the tape can come off easily if it’s not the proper quality.
The “X” shape finger taping is a popular one on the BJJ mats. Take the tape and wrap circles around the phalanges bones, one around the proximal phalanges, another in the medial phalanges, and another in the distal phalanges.
Below, Atos Jiu-Jitsu Team black belt, Dominique Bell, gives a great tutorial on how to tape your finger for BJJ.
It’s also common practice to tape at least two fingers together if one is injured. This type of splinting will help stabilize your fingers and hand. You may find your grip to be stronger and if tapped correctly, there will less pressure on the joints.
Light stretching of the wrist, hands, and fingers may help prevent a tear or injury by getting blood circulation. Finger and grip strength exercises have been shown to improve overall finger joint health as well.
Change up your grips, especially in the training room. Back away from the pocket grip you love so dearly. Use more hooks and pistol grips. It will be okay if your guard get’s passed.
It’s important to give your entire body proper time to heal, and this includes your hands and fingers. Use different grips to help balance stress on your phalanges. It’s not uncommon to see young BJJ players already dealing with finger and hand pain.
Keenan Cornelius has stated he only has a 20% range of motion in his hands. He is known for his brilliant gi game, constantly using his grips on sleeves and collars to gain the advantage. Keenan does BJJ for a living and has literally dedicated his life to the art. If you have to use your hands for your work or want to throw the ball with your kid without hurting, then it’s important to use your grips wisely and allow for proper healing time.
As always, train smart and clearly know your training goals. Allow yourself time to heal properly when banged up. Utilize tape, change up your grips, humble thy ego, and allow those fingers to last for many Jiu-Jitsu years.