What is a Rotator Cuff BJJ Injury? Types, Reasons & Preventions

What is a Rotator Cuff BJJ Injury? Types, Reasons & Preventions

The rotator cuff is a set of 4 muscles in your shoulder that allow free shoulder movement. The glenohumeral joint present in the shoulder is actually a ball and socket joint. It allows the practitioner to move his arm in all directions.

As we all know, BJJ training is a rigorous one. It requires you to perform workouts, strength training, and conditioning. During training, careless training can result in injuries like knee injury or a torn meniscus.

1. What is a Rotator Cuff?

The rotator cuff consists of 4 muscles and a considerable amount of tendons that help to keep the shoulder mobile. They aid in the movement and rotation of your shoulder. It maintains the stability of the glenohumeral joint.

Rotator cuff muscles are used in a spectrum of movements. Those movements include flexion and internal and external rotation.

2. What is a Rotator Cuff Injury?

What is a Rotator Cuff Injury
Photo credit: @sports-health

As the rotator cuff surrounds the shoulder joint, any malfunctioning in those 4 muscles is called a rotator cuff injury. A rotator cuff injury means that the muscles around the shoulder joint are damaged. The individual feels a sharp pain in his shoulder.

The rotator cuff is situated at the back of your shoulder and helps you to lift your arm easily. When any of the 4 muscles are damaged, you feel an immense amount of pain in your shoulder and are not able to move it even a little bit.

Often during BJJ training or sparring sessions, practitioners experience a rotator cuff injury. This injury can be painful to the degree that your arm movements are restricted and sometimes you even have to get surgical treatment.

3. Types of Rotator Cuff Injury

There are 4 types of rotator cuff injuries a practitioner can face during BJJ training.

3.1. Rotator Cuff Tears

Rotator cuff tears occur in the muscles around the shoulder joint because of a sudden or abrasive force. The sudden pulling of tendons from the arm bone causes tears in the rotator cuff.

Partial Tears

The tendon is partially attached to the bone. It does not separate completely.

Complete Tears

The tendon is completely separated from the arm bone and creates a hole in the muscle. Complete tears are more painful than partial tears.

3.2. Rotator Cuff Tendinitis

Rotator cuff tendinitis is also called biceps tendinitis and bursitis. This occurs when the rotator cuff swells because of the pain. It causes irritation and inflammation in the tendons.

3.3. Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy

Rotator cuff tendinopathy is a chronic injury as it not only damages the tendon and the muscle but also the collagen. The collagen surrounding the muscles breaks at a faster pace, causing acute damage to the practitioner’s shoulder.

3.4. Impingement Syndrome

Impingement syndrome occurs when acromion, the top outer edge of the shoulder blade, impinges on the rotator cuff. The tendon swells to a greater degree and you can feel bouts of pain.

4. BJJ Training With A Rotator Cuff Injury

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a submission grappling combat sport. The practitioners are in hand-to-hand combat in BJJ. Submissions and takedowns sometimes force practitioners to go out of the way in the application of techniques. For example, when you get caught in an Armbar applied by your opponent, there is a possibility of a rotator cuff injury.

If you develop any kind of shoulder injury during BJJ training/fighting or even from your daily life activities, you should stop training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu immediately. Rotator cuff injury is the most sensitive injury. If it is not treated at the right time, it can lead to more complex problems. Most probably, you will not be able to continue BJJ.

It is best for you to pause training and focus on recovery time. Some resting days will not harm you rather they will heal you so you can come back as a more fierce grappler.

5. Other Exercises For A Rotator Cuff Injury

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training and exercises can be hard for you as you are suffering from a rotator cuff injury. You can go for easy exercises that protect your shoulder from abrupt motions. You can also wear shoulder braces during these exercises so that you do not feel much pain.

5.1. Doorway Pec Stretch

Doorway stretch helps to improve anterior capsule flexibility in your muscles which can diminish as you train aggressively during your Jiu-Jitsu rolling or sparring sessions. These stretches also aid in creating flexibility in your damaged rotator cuff muscles.

To perform doorway pec stretch:

  • Place your elbows on and hands flat on each side of the door. Make sure that the door is not too wide in range.
  • Place one foot in front of the other and lean into the doorway.
  • Lean into the doorway to the point that you feel a stretch in your shoulders.
  • You can repeat this exercise many times a day.

5.2. Lawn Mower Pull

Lawn mower pull is an excellent exercise for a rotator cuff injured shoulder. It is basically an adapted version of the dumbbell row. It aims to cause little and slow movements in your injured shoulder. It targets the scapular stabilizers.

To perform lawn mower pulls:

  • You must use an elastic band for this exercise.
  • Stand on one corner of the elastic band and hold the other end with your opposite hand.
  • Start the exercise by moving your hand and holding the band on the inside of the opposite knee.
  • Bend a little and then come back to an upright position.
  • Bring your hand to your ribs and squeeze your shoulder blades.

5.3. Pendulum

This exercise works on the supraspinatus, subscapularis, and infraspinatus. It reduces pain in the shoulder and allows it to move to a greater range of motion.

To perform the pendulum exercise:

  • Place your hand on a table or any hard surface.
  • Bend a little to the point where your back is in a lean position.
  • Your hand must be free and in a hanging state.
  • Consider your hand as a pendulum and move it back and forth and then in a circular motion.
  • Repeat the process with your other arm too.

Days per week Number of Reps
5 to 6 2 sets of 10

5.4. The Crossover Stretch Arm

Cross stretch is an excellent exercise for those Jiu-Jitsu practitioners who are suffering from a rotator cuff injury. It targets the rotator cuff muscles and not only heals the injured ones but also strengthens the healthy ones. It increases the mobility in the shoulder which is compromised when you suffer from a rotator cuff injury.

To perform crossover stretch arm:

  • Place your hand on the opposite shoulder. You have to place the hand whose shoulder is injured.
  • If you can not lift your hand, place it on the other shoulder with the help of your other hand.
  • Grab your elbow with the other hand and raise it to your shoulder level.
  • Use your hand that is placed on the elbow to bring your elbow close to the opposite shoulder and move your hand to the back.
  • Hold this stretch for 20 seconds and repeat the process 20 times.

Days per week Repetitions
5 to 6 4 on each side

5.5. Sleeper Stretch

Sleeper stretch helps to increase the internal rotation in your shoulder. It induces flexibility in the tendons and muscles of the shoulder. The specific area that it targets is the glenohumeral joint.

To perform sleeper stretch:

  • Lie on your side whose arm is to be stretched.
  • Your neck must be bent forward only to a small extent. It will aid to stabilize your shoulder blade.
  • With your other hand, hold your stretched arm wrist. This other hand will help you to stretch your arm easily without experiencing any pain.
  • Bring your injured shoulder arm close to the surface with the support of your free hand.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and then switch to your other arm.

5.6. Passive Internal Rotation

Passive internal rotation is responsible for improving the stability of the shoulder capsule. It rotates the humerus in such a way that your shoulder can have immense flexibility and you will definitely be safe from shoulder injuries. The muscle that P.I.R. exercise target is your subscapularis.

To perform passive internal rotation:

  • Take a stick and hold it behind your back, rotator cuff injured hand must grasp the stick lightly.
  • Pull the stick in one direction gently so that your injured shoulder should not face any exertion.
  • Hold this position for at least 30 seconds. If you feel any pain, stop the exercise immediately.
  • Repeat the process on the other side.

Days per week Repetitions
5 to 6 4 on each side

5.7. Passive External Rotation

Passive external rotation is good for the strengthening of external rotators in the shoulder and also helps to improve stability so that you can do slight movement of your shoulder.

To perform passive external rotation:

  • Use a T-handle and grab its ends with both hands.
  • You must only move and put pressure on your non-injured shoulder. That is why this exercise is called passive as it does not involve much movement in your injured rotator cuff shoulder.
  • Put your elbow of the injured shoulder on any soft surface so that it can elevate from your other elbow.
  • Move your hands in a to-and-fro motion slowly.
  • Move your injured rotator cuff shoulder to only 20° to 30°.

5.8. External Rotation With Arm Abducted at 90°

This exercise works on the supraspinatus and the infraspinatus muscle of the rotator cuff. The infraspinatus muscle abducts and rotates your shoulder externally.

To perform external rotation with the arm abducted at 90°:

  • Take an elastic band and fix it on any surface.
  • Hold the other end of the band with your stretched shoulder.
  • Pull the band back by moving your shoulder slowly or it can initiate pain in your injured rotator cuff shoulder.
  • Rotate your hand as if your hand is facing the ceiling. Make a 90° angle with your hand and then bring it back to the initial position.

Week Days Repetitions
5 to 6 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each side

6. Symptoms of A Rotator Cuff Injury During Jiu-Jitsu Training

6.1. Intense Pain

During BJJ training, you have to go through various exercises. Also during rolling and sparring sessions, fighters often experience cramped muscles. They do not take it seriously and it can lead to dangerous consequences, rotator cuff injury is one of them.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters suffer from intense shoulder pain. During different submissions such as Armbar or Triangle Choke, your arm goes beyond its normal range of motion and it can induce pain in it. As soon as you feel sharp pain, get yourself checked.

6.2. Cracking Sound in your Shoulder

If, during a fight or intense rolling, you hear a cracking sound in your shoulder as you were pushed or pulled hard. Do not take it lightly. This sound means that there was a sudden pulling of tendons from the arm bone.

6.3. Muscle Weakness

Not only do your arm muscles weaken but as you have to pause active training, your whole body suffers the loss of muscle weakening. It is better to rest for a while and then continue other exercises.

6.4. Restricted Movement of Arms

As you feel intense pain in your shoulder, your arm movement is very much restricted. You can not move even your hands. Seek medical health or your injury will get worse.

6.5. Swelling in the Inside of the Arm

As the pain gets worse with time, the inside of your arm swells to a greater degree. Your skin becomes red and sometimes itchy. It is a red sign to pause training and get medical assistance.

6.6. Can’t Sleep at Night

Your sleep cycle disrupts because of bouts of pain that you experience. And of course, when you won’t get enough sleep, your body will not function properly and it will affect your health as well as your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game.

7. Recovery Time of A Rotator Cuff Injury

The recovery time for a rotator cuff injury is approximately 6 to 8 weeks. It takes that much amount of time for the tendon to heal. Due to the sudden pull of tendons from the arm bone, it takes a significant amount of time to heal. For that time period, you must pursue different other exercises.

8. FAQs

8.1. What is the Effect of Rotator Cuff Injury on Blood Flow?

Due to rotator cuff injury, blood flow to the shoulders decreases. Due to the blood deficiency in the shoulder region, other tendons do not get nourished and the injury intensifies.

9. Conclusion

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training can be intensive for practitioners. Often during training practitioners suffer from different injuries which may get serious when not cared for properly. Rotator cuff injury is a shoulder injury consisting of bouts of pain that does not allow you to move your shoulder in all directions.

A rotator cuff injury is a shoulder injury that happens because of the detachment of the tendon from the shoulder bone. If a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner is suffering from a rotator cuff injury, he must pause training immediately. If you don't do so, it will only worsen your injury to the point that you will need prolonged recovery time to continue BJJ.

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