Shoulder injuries in BJJ: how can unique physio help

Just like in all sports, injuries are a part of life and BJJ is no different. Injuries in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) are unfortunately common, with around 90% of BJJ practitioners suffering an injury while training with the most common areas of injuries involving the fingers, neck, knee and shoulder with a majority needing some form of rehabilitation and treatment (1). Shoulder injuries in BJJ are common as the sport puts individuals through extreme movements often under force.

So what are some simple exercises you can do to minimise the risk of shoulder injuries occurring?

A face pull using a band is a great exercise, strengthening the rotator cuff in a higher position to promote more stability around the shoulders. These small muscles work to stabilize the shoulder during movements and are often a source of weakness and pain with shoulder injuries. The exercise is best performed with a band or a cable machine but can also be performed lying on a swiss ball as a hold if bands are unavailable. An example of an earlier stage variation of this exercise would be a single arm external rotation exercise with the arm down by the side of the torso in a neutral position.

Start with your hands on the band in a lowered position. Pull the band upwards making sure your shoulders and hands are in line with your body with your knuckles pointing backwards. Ensure that you are performing the exercise in a controlled movement, focusing on using the muscles behind your shoulder. This exercise is often used as a part of graded rehabilitation as a mid-late stage exercise.

Another simple exercise would be a thoracic extension stretch. Martial art athletes spend a lot of time curled into a tight position, thus it is important for our warm-ups and exercises to work to stretch out of this position.

This exercise can be done with either a foam roller on the upper back or as a cat-camel exercise on your hands and knees. For the foam roller variation, sit on the floor and place a foam roller on your upper back. Place your hands behind your head and slowly arch backwards, trying to keep your low back still to emphasise the movement in your upper back.

For an exercise that mirrors the movements of BJJ, a sit out exercise is great for working the stabilizing muscles around the shoulder. It also works the core muscles simultaneously and is a movement that is important in scrambles and working out of a turtle position. Emphasise a slow, controlled movement, trying to strengthen the shoulder at greater degrees of movement. This is a warm-up exercise that can be done during class with other drills such as bear crawls and wheel barrow walks.

Overall, it is a good idea to incorporate shoulder exercises into your exercise program and make sure that if you do get injured you return to training in a graded manner when returning to sport. Strength training and load managements are also considerations as they are important in managing the risk factors of poor strength, fatigue and overuse. This will allow you the best possible chance to stay in the gym for longer and progress properly without being held back by old injuries.

Do you have a shoulder injury or think you might have? Book with us now and we can commence your recovery journey!


  1. Petrisor, B. A., Del Fabbro, G., Madden, K., Khan, M., Joslin, J., & Bhandari, M. (2019). Injury in Brazilian jiu-jitsu training. Sports Health, 11(5), 432-439.

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