Over the past year, I’ve had to stay away from the mats on several occasions due to injury. In fact, I’m currently nursing a shoulder injury and just returned to training last week. In this post, we’ll take a look at some tips for injury recovery for BJJ, especially as it pertains to older grapplers.

Assess the Damage

After you’ve consulted with your doctor, physical therapist, or whichever professional you’ve entrusted with your care, you’ll need to accurately assess the damage and decide how long you’ll need to let the injury rest. Regarding treating your injury and how long to rest, you’ll need to trust and listen to your healthcare professional. Once you’ve been cleared to resume physical activity, consider the following: the severity and nature of the injury, how long you’ve been away from training, and your age.

I’m 50 years old and just returned from a shoulder injury. Specifically, I was told by my doctor that I had mild tendonitis. I went for several weeks of physical therapy, acupuncture, and massage. During this time, I let my body rest except for a few exercises that were assigned to strengthen the damaged area and a few other exercises I continue doing which didn’t involve the compromised body parts.

Making a Plan

Last week I had a session with expert massage therapist Marcus Rodriguez of Jiu Jitsu Massage here in New York City. In short, Marcus is a genius. He’s a purple belt training at Masterskya under Alex Ecklin and Van Allen Flores, both of whom are black belts under my instructor Vitor Shaolin Ribeiro. Marcus brings his deep knowledge of BJJ to his work as a massage therapist by specializing in martial artists, dancers, and athletes in many other disciplines.

It was Marcus who advised me to consider movement through injury. As my physical therapist was giving me exercises to do already, I decided to make a plan to return to training after having taken about three weeks off. I was feeling considerably better, just not 100% yet. The thinking with movement through injury is that it prevents more scar tissue from developing, so not moving can actually increase your chance of getting injured again when you resume physical activity.

Exercises for Recovery

My physical therapist advised focusing on closed chain exercises and offered some options for strengthening the shoulder muscles. She also taught me some plank variations so that I could continue working my core.

Over the past week, I’ve resumed the following exercises:

  • Animal squats
  • Dynamic planks
  • TRX rows
  • TRX pushups
  • Various shoulder strengthening exercises with exercise bands

I’ve also been doing the following supporting habits:

  • Icing the injured area
  • Stretching
  • Drinking lots of water

This all seems to working well because I’m feeling much better and have since returned to training.

Returning to BJJ After an Injury

I of course informed my instructor of my injury in my first class back as well as my training partners. Shaolin offers the BJJ self-defense curriculum in a separate set of classes which he calls Fight Foundations. These classes focus on drilling the self-defense component of BJJ over the course of 54 classes. He offers this class four times per week at his midtown Manhattan location.

I’ve gotten tremendous benefit from being a regular in the Fight Foundations classes. At 50 years old, my body isn’t always able to handle too many sparring sessions in a week, so Fight Foundations is a great way to get in mat time. There’s enough overlap between the BJJ self-defense curriculum and sport BJJ that I learn a lot that translates to sparring. I also learn and reinforce standard BJJ concepts, and I love the connection with the history of BJJ that I get from this class.

As the BJJ for self-defense classes rely primarily on drilling, the predictability makes them ideal for easing back in from an injury. I made sure to stretch sufficiently before and after class, ice in the evening, and was mindful not to take too hot of a shower.

I’ve now been to three Fight Foundations classes and my shoulder is feeling pretty good. I’m planning to attend an open mat next week to see how the shoulder responds to sparring. I’ll choose my partners carefully and will roll light.


I got lucky this time. My injury wasn’t severe and I was able to catch it very early. The work I did was mostly preventative. I was extra cautious because as a 50 year old, our bodies don’t heal as quickly and we injure more easily.

Honest assessment, proper rest, and professional care seem to be key, as is finding the right balance between rest and movement through injury.

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