In my recent article about passive and active ranges of motion I described the differences between them, the reason for concern when the difference is large, and briefly touch on how you should avoid moving through pain.
Jiu-jitsu culture seems to glorify at worst and passively accept at best that injuries are just going to happen. Everyone will have bad knees and shoulders and aches and pains together. In some ways, that’s true – you’re doing an active, tough sport and there will always be risks no matter how many precautions we take. It’s awesome that we do something that is so engaging and fun that we want to do it anyway. I’m super excited to have something I love to do so much, that challenges me to be better every day.
How many people do you know that had to quit because they couldn’t take getting hurt and you never see them any more?
How much time have you had to take off because you were injured?
How many times have you slapped hands with someone (or maybe you’re that someone) who seems practically taped together?
It doesn’t have to be this way
Your joints can build resiliency. Your ranges of motion can expand and with them your control over them.
The problem lies with the mentality that injuries are a badge to be worn and something to be pushed through. If you are a professional or other very serious athlete (no matter what sport you love) you are knowingly trading risks for potential glory. This is fine, but seeing some of those athletes post on social media how proud they are of the injuries they train through is injurious to the thousands of fans who look to them for advice. Since it is a negative, it carries more weight than many Olympic athlete habits might. Your average Joe or Jane is not going to adopt the training supplementation and practices of most of their heroes because it takes too much work. Those same people can easily choose to train through injury, because those who know are doing it, so they must need to push at least that hard to get better themselves, right? Wrong.
Diminishing returns and bad brain maps
Your athletic habits have a lot of great qualities. You need good physical and mental stress to stay healthy, and Jiu-Jitsu is one of the most movement-demanding sports out there. One of my favorite articles I’ve written for Digitsu is about the biomechanical benefits of training and how that means you should put your kids in it for good development . You provide a signal through force and your body responds by reinforcing the movements you ask it to perform.
When you train with pain your brain is getting bad information. Corrupt files and broken down roads that just keep getting used come to mind. Your joint capsules are linked to your brain, giving you proprioception of your body in space. This means the feelings you get from your joints moving create your spatial awareness and potential coordination. The more you use your joints, the better your maps. You’ll have better armbar defense when you have a better sense of where your arms are in the first place. When you have pain or lack of control, you get bad signals. As you continue to use these “bad roads” they will worsen and soon enough your maps have altered to view the painful ranges as dangerous. Your movement will be unconsciously affected no matter how you try to avoid it and your body may shift its structure to do the best job of getting around the painful area.
All of this is limiting and will affect not only what you do on the mat but the way you walk, breathe, deal with stress, and live your life.
Instead of glorifying it, discourage people from training through pain and encourage them to get help, professional help. “Just doing yoga” or whatever other restorative you choose is not specific enough if it still puts you through the painful ranges. I do not personally accept the answer of just avoiding the ranges forever, either. Your world does not have to get smaller. Professionals should check first to see if there is a serious issue and then help you work within your painless ranges to being smoothing out and expanding the roads.
Movement quality = quality of life. Take risks, enjoy them for all the wonderful things they do for your brain and body - every cell that makes up you. Don’t build bad roads. Help your body help you get where you want to be in life by honoring what it’s telling you – “Stop. Help me.”
Don’t take my word for it
Pain science is a HUUUUUUUGGGGEEE field ranging from psychology to physiology and everything in between. Start exploring your own body. Become mindful of it. If something hurts, don’t take it lightly. Move the area in every way you can, noting what EXACTLY triggers a pain response. The more educated about yourself you are the better prepared you can come to a professional to help you. You are responsible for yourself first and foremost.