Dealing With Neck Pain & Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

November 28, 2020

There’s nothing worse in jiu-jitsu than having your neck cranked on, or staying in a submission too long and fighting it, only to know that your neck will pay the price for it the following morning. You wake up the next morning and can’t look left or right!

Addressing neck pain from jiu-jitsu can range from performing strength and mobility exercises if the injury isn’t serious to going to see a professional physiotherapist or doctor if symptoms are more worrying such as numbness.

If you want to set yourself up to protect your neck and keep yourself on the mats, then we must understand what can cause us neck pain during jiu-jitsu and how we can implement preventative measures.

Causes Of Neck Pain From Jiu-Jitsu

There are 26 muscles in the neck that lie superficially and deep. Their job is to stabilize and move the head. When the neck is put under pressure whether that be by being squeezed, or being pushed outside its capable range of motion, you are at risk of spinal and muscular injury.

Often, neck pain comes from muscles ‘tightening’ or going into spasm when the spine is put into potentially dangerous positions. Muscles will contract in order to protect the spine from any damage. The spine is seen as one of the most important structures by your brain as it is the path for the nerves to run from your brain throughout your body.

Damage to this path could potentially disrupt the electrical messages being sent up and down the nerves. This is why you may be feeling pins and needles or tingling.  

When Should You Worry About Neck Pain?

The neck and spine is not something to play around with. If it feels serious, it likely is. It is best to go see a professional doctor or physiotherapist who can refer you to a doctor if they deem it serious enough.

If you suffer from any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to see someone ASAP:

  • Chronic pain – if you thought it wasn’t so serious and would heal itself but it hasn’t in a few weeks, that is a sign to get checked out.
  • Numbness in your arms or pins and needles. It could be a nerve problem.
  • Bad headaches.
  • Problems with your eyesight.

How To Prevent Jiu-Jitsu Neck Pain

When Should You Worry About Neck Pain

Prevention is the name of the game. Not all injuries are preventable in BJJ. Accidents happen. But there are ways you can reduce your risk of neck injury. This can be done through directly training the neck or making small changes to your jiu-jitsu training.

Develop Neck Strength And Mobility

Most resources will tell you to stretch your neck to relieve neck pain and help prevent future injury. I disagree. For a couple of reasons:

  1. Passive stretching may improve the range of motion, but it does not improve strength at the new range of motion you have developed. Meaning, if you find yourself in a roll with your neck being forced into this new range of motion, you are going to resist. Resisting is now applying force in this new range of motion where you are going to be weak which can potentially lead to injury.
  2. Practically, if you’ve had neck pain from jiu-jitsu before (who hasn’t), trying to stretch your neck tends to cause more pain during the stretch without any relief afterward.

Instead, strengthening the neck through a large range of motion is how you can develop mobility AND the strength that can really reduce your risk of injury. How do you do this? I have a full neck training program you can implement right here.

Tap Early

The ego can be a dangerous thing. It’s important to save your body for future trainings and competitions. By fighting every submission and position, you’ll eventually spend more time off the mats than on.

That’s no good when you want to level up your jiu-jitsu game. Instead, tap early. If you know you can’t get out of a submission, tap. Don’t stay in a submission and while you are fighting it trying to survive to the buzzer, you hear your neck click multiple times. We’ve all done it. And we pay the price the following day.

Alter Your BJJ Training When Your Neck Is Sore

If you do have minor neck pain (if you have serious neck pain, you should not be training. You should be with the doctor), you can alter your jiu-jitsu training to reduce the pressure on your neck. Here are some ideas:

  • Don’t start standing – here you completely eliminate the risk of landing on your head or taking whiplash on impact if you are taken down. You also eliminate the risk of an opponent grabbing a guillotine when shooting.
  • Don’t start on your knees – it might seem like all of your options are gone. But starting on your knees tends to make your head and neck a target to break posture.
  • Start on your back or in a position – this will reduce your risk of having your head or neck pulled on.
  • Be on top – easier said than done. But having top position means you don’t get your head and neck smashed during passes.

What Is The Fastest Way To Relieve Neck Pain?

If your neck pain is not serious, I’ve found the best device and exercise is using the Iron Neck (see which model is right for you). The ability to strengthen and mobilize the neck in all 360° is a game-changer and is the only neck device that I’ve personally used that instantly makes my neck feel better afterward.

This is my favorite go-to exercise when I have neck pain. The Iron Neck Left and Right.

I also own a Neck Hammock which does feel very nice when wanting to traction your neck. However, it does not relieve neck pain like the Iron Neck does. The combination of resistance and range of motion is unparalleled with this device.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.



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