Words: Sophia McDermott
As a jiu jitsu athlete, if you play a lot of spider guard or work with the lapels and sleeves, then the constant gripping on your fingers can take its toll.
Since I play a lot of spider guard, people often ask me what I do to prevent joint pain in the fingers, but I don’t experience chronic sore joints. So, I wanted to share with you some tips you might find helpful.
All the joints in your fingers are lined with cartilage. Cartilage is a softer, more spongy tissue than bone that is designed to protect and cushion the joints and help them glide over one and other smoothly for effective movement. Cartilage consists of around 65% to 80% fluid, as well as collagen, which is a fibrous connective tissue made from protein. It is this fluid which gives the cartilage its spongy quality and enables the joints to be able to deal with huge amounts of compression force. The fluid in and around the cartilage allows the joints to slide over one and other nice and smoothly – enabling effective mobility.
The pain arises when the cartilage in the joints become inflamed. Excessive gripping force can start to cause friction and inflammation which can lead to pain and ultimately deterioration of the joints. If you have your heart set on training day in and day out, minimizing inflammation outside of training is the key – and there are a few ways you can do this.
1/ Stay hydrated:
Since the cartilage that surrounds the joint is primarily water, then it would make sense to stay hydrated. Adequate hydration means there will be water/fluid within the joint to keep the area lubricated and allow for ease of movement. For athletes who are mildly chronically dehydrated (a very common thing amongst BJJ athletes), the constant gripping and force the fingers have to deal from training will cause more friction and therefore more inflammation, which all equates to more joint pain and often leads to injury.
Staying hydrated is one of the most important factors for mitigating joint pain. Adequate hydration also reduces water retention. When you don’t drink enough, your body holds on to what water it has, but this leads to puffy skin and swelling around the joints. We want the fluid to be in the cartilage and in fluid that lubricates the joints, not around the joints like a pressure cooker from localised swelling.
2/ Eat less salt and more foods high in potassium:
Electrolytes play a role in balancing the fluids in your body. Sodium and potassium in particular work together to balance the fluid inside and outside of the cells. As mentioned, we want fluid to be in the tissue and fluid lubricating the joints, not outside causing swelling. Most of us have a diet too high in sodium and too low in potassium, so the balance of fluids in and out of our cells is out of wack. Too much sodium pushes fluid out of the cells and leads to water retention and swelling. Eat less salt and more foods that are high in potassium such as sweet potatoes and bananas.
Omega 3 fatty acids:
Omega 3 fatty acids are a very powerful anti-inflammatory agent. They help block the immune system’s inflammation response. Now don’t get me wrong, inflammation is very necessary to help fight viruses and bacteria and deal with injury. However, most of us are in a chronically inflamed state due to the foods we eat, chronic stress and chemicals we are constantly exposed to. Chronic inflammation is the culprit for so many of the diseases health issues we experience today including sore joints. Supplementing with a good fish oil is great to lower overall inflammation in the body. Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, and seeds such as flax seeds are all potent sources of Omega 3. Add these to your diet and experience better overall health as well as pain free joints.
Cryotherapy, more commonly known as cold therapy, is a healing technique that athletes have been using for a long time. Exposing the body to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes helps muscles recover after strenuous training or injury. If jumping in a cold bath doesn’t rock your socks off, try dipping your hands in a bucket of cold water or ice water for a few minutes after a hard training session. By reducing blood flow to a targeted area for a short period of time, this can reduce inflammation and swelling and relieves pain around muscles, joints and tendons.
Taping your fingers to give you some structural support will help to deal with the constant load your fingers endure when always gripping. There are ways you can tape your fingers to allow for full joint mobility that give you support also. Check out Monkey Tape, https://monkeytapeco.com who make tape specifically for fingers!
For those avid athletes who are feeling the toll of gripping on their joints, all these tips will help to reduce pain in your fingers. Taking care of yourself by taping and eating whole natural foods that are high in fruits and vegetables and fatty fish and low in fast foods will make a big difference. The most important factor in reducing joint pain in your fingers, however, is proper hydration to ensure that there is the necessary fluid in and around the joint for proper cushioning, lubrication and effective movement. Proper hydration also and reduces water retention and localised swelling.
Keeping these fluids up will reduce the friction and wear and tear of the cartilage around the joints so that you can keep training pain free.
Sophia McDermott (Drysdale) is the first Australian female BJJ black belt, multiple time World Champion and Pan Am Champion.
Sophia is certified with National Academy of Sports Medicine – NASM CPT, FNS as a trainer and as a nutrition specialist where she specialises in functional training for athletes, nutrition for weight loss and performance and women’s health. Sophia runs the BJJ program at the UFC Las Vegas. She runs her own business www.sophiaFIT.com offering online nutrition and training plans, e books and informative articles. She travels to teach BJJ seminars and runs Lifestyle Camps that focus on all things BJJ, health and fitness.