Coping with Injuries as a Judo Athlete.

Sports Injuries: No Referral Needed!

Photo by Trevor Haldenby

Judo is a tough sport, you are going to get hurt. You are going to get sprains, bruises, strains and often worse. The higher up the performance ladder you climb, the higher the probability that you get injured. Why? because to make it to the top of the sport of Judo you have to push yourself hard, you need to push the boundaries of your physical capabilities and eventually you will probably push too hard and get hurt. And lets not forget the injuries that you can’t control, like when a partner throws you awkwardly.

If you are going to be a Judo athlete, you will need to learn to cope with injuries.

You can probably break down injuries into two broad categories, over-use injuries and trauma injuries. Over-use injuries are when you push it too hard and something gives. You train too hard and don’t recover properly, then you pull a muscle or your knee gives out. This is an over-use injury.

Alternatively, the club heavyweight falls on the side of your leg and suddenly you are on the floor in agony. Alternatively, your partner bangs heads with you and you split your eyebrow open and start to bleed. These are trauma injuries.

With both type you need to do two things, deal with the immediate injury appropriately and also recover over the longer term.

The immediate actions or first aid is really important and can have a huge impact on your recovery. The  R.I.C.E. treatment methodolgy should be implemented as soon as possible. You should hopefully have access to a qualified medical person in your club, you should have Ice available at the dojo and the injury should be treated seriously. Judo is pretty bad at times for ignoring injuries, often to the longer term detriment of the athlete as training is impacted because they might be sore (that bruise on your shin for example) or for worse injuries you may prolong the weakness in the affected area. Get you injuries treated, get them treated right, get it done right away.

Both types of injury should be treated with R.I.C.E. and will often occur in the Dojo.

Trauma injuries are often just unavoidable accidents, sometimes they could have been avoided. So if you are serious about your Judo career you need to minimise the risks to injury that you can. Fix ripped mats, make sure there are no gaps between mats, things like that. Also make sure you are doing sensible training with sensible partners of the right size and type.

Over-use injuries are often the result of errors in your training affecting weaknesses in your body. You want to do two things, firstly know where the weaknesses in your body are. To do this you may need to consult with a doctor and/or physiotherapist and get a thorough assessment of your body. You must also do everything in your power to ensure you train within your bodies limitations using sensible training. Importantly you should ensure you are recovering properly between training. Mike & Gene on recently discussed this with Dr. Calvin Johnson, M.D.

Once you’ve gotten over the initial injury you will need to recover, if it is a minor injury you may be able to train normally. But if it is more serious it may require modification or complete cancellation of your regular training. Rest is often good, and perhaps you might need to do recoperative exercises. Dave over at the Advanced Apprenticeship Judo Blog has recently posted a video of one of his apprentices doing recovery training, you should take a look.

This covers the physical side (basically at least), what you also need to address is the emotional side and the logistical side.

Emotionally, you may find that you struggle. This might be the time when you find yourself “down in the dumps” or your confidence might take a hit. These are normal emotional responses and  things you need to be prepared for. It will happen and you need to be ready for it. If you have access to a sports psychologist, try and talk to them about this topic, preferably before it happens, but during recover also.

Logistical issues are also a big problem to overcome. If you get hurt, your training will be affected, you might not be healthy for competitions. You might have to spend your budget on physiotherapy rather than on dojo mat fees. You may have to cancel a trip in favour of getting x-rays. All your training cycles may now require alteration to ensure you peak at the right time.

Hopefully, this post will achieve one thing, it will forewarn you of what will eventually occur. You will get hurt, you will have to deal with an injury and the impact that has on your training. One of the best ways to cope with injuries and the impact on your training and life; is to be aware that they will occur and to be prepared for that eventuality.

You don’t want an injury to be something you are not prepared for, you need to have a plan for entering an injured state. It is like any other element of your training as a Judo athlete, you need to plan for it.

As always, the best approach is to discuss this with your coaches and advisors. Talk to your coach, your doctor, your physio, your psychologist, your nutritionist, etc, etc.

Comments (13)

Peter ReavesMay 15th, 2009 at 2:39 pm

I havew never read som much rubbish with relaionship to injuries in judo. Assuming that a student is being taught by a responsible and qualified instructor, he/she will be taught how to execute a technique whilst maintaing control so as to evert injury. Students are also taught how to fall correctly, breaking the fall, thus being able to be thrown without injury. Compared to other sports, injuries in judo are rare because of the type of training. The article is almost scare mongering and should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

I would suggest that the author of this article knows very little about judo and should carried credited reseach beforehand.

Stuart WilkinsonMay 15th, 2009 at 4:06 pm

A very good post, Thank you. I can relate to a lot of the article and fully believe that injuries and accidents can happen no matter what level of judo you do. This has to be expected in any full contact sport. It is the nature or the beast!

lanceWMay 15th, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Hi Peter,
I agree with in regard to the importance of a well qualified instructor as a risk reducer, I my self am a EJU Level 4 coach (soon to be Level 5) and appreciate how much I learn about how to protect players from injury. A good coach will be able to help prevent many trauma related injuries by managing sessions appropriately; also over-use injuries can also be reduced with good coaching in operation.

A majority of injuries in Judo are in the knees, ankles, shoulders and phalanges (fingers and toes). Knee injuries according to one study for example impact the Uke in Taio Toshi throws primarily. This is liable to be a result of trauma rather than over-use. The alternative is shoulder injuries which were found to be pretty much purely affecting the Tori in Seoi Nage attacks. Fingers and toes, well, gripping and gaps in the mat I suspect mainly.

I disagree about injuries being “rare”. They are frequent and the higher up the performance ladder you go, the injury rate goes up. The injury rate in Judo has been quantified in several studies. Kujala et al. published research back in 1995 in the BMJ for example that put the figure at 117 injures per 1000 person years of exposure. What that means in real terms I don’t know, but this put the injury rate in Judo above Soccer, Ice Hockey, Volleyball and Basketball. Unlike Soccer, Ice Hockey and Basketball a majority of Judo injuries were found to be sustained in training rather than competition.

So although I agree with you about quality coaching being essential, I disagree with the notion that the article is “scare mongering”.

Please do examine the evidence for yourself, below are some of the articles I used in preparing the article and that i have in my Judo library, then please do comment again.

Thanks finally for taking the time to visit the site, read the article and comment, we may disagree but I appreciate your time.


References for injuries in Judo (and other sports):
Barsottini, D., Guimarães, A. E., & Morais, P. R. (2006). Relationship between techniques and injuries among judo practitioners. Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte, 12, 56-60.

Green, C. M., Petrou, M. J., Fogarty-Hover, M. L. S., & Rolf, C. G. (2007). Injuries among judokas during competition. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 17, 205―210. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2006.00552.x.

Kujala, U. M., Taimela, S., Antti-Poika, I., Orava, S., Tuominen, R., & Myllynen, P. (1995). Acute injuries in soccer, ice hockey, volleyball, basketball, judo, and karate: analysis of national registry data. BMJ, 311(7018), 1465-1468.

Souza, M., Monteiro, H., Del Vecchio, F., & Gonçalves, A. (2006). Referring to judo’s sports injuries in São Paulo State Championship. Science & Sports, 21(5), 280-284.

DeannaMay 18th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Wow, a very informative article! I have seen many different sporting injuries and experienced a few personally. It really does’nt matter how much experience one has in any sport, injuries are always waiting to happen.

ColinJune 24th, 2011 at 12:35 pm

With reference to 117 injuries in 1000 person years. This means over the course of one year, for every 1000 people doing judo, 117 injuries will occur. What would be worth knowing is how the researchers defined what an injury is. For example would they include bruising or foot blisters as a part of the 117 injuries.

AmberJuly 8th, 2012 at 6:05 pm

I had one of my first judo sessions yesterday and it was 1.30 hours , I pulled muscles in both my arms, shoulders, stomach and possibly tendons in lower arm but I had the best time, and I gets me out of sports day 🙂 I really recommend judo, I’m 14 and a girl I loved it! Injuries were worth it

Vanisha CoutinhoJuly 26th, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Do warm up properly to avoid injuries.

GeorgeAugust 9th, 2012 at 9:39 pm

I am 40 years old and have just started training in Judo 5 months ago part-time. I have to agree with the author. Every time I return home from Judo training, I returned with bruises on my arms and torso from grappling and falling. When I take the fall – with my beginner’s technique, the sudden jerky of my head also does strain my neck muscles from time to time whenever I have not done sufficient warm-up exercises to loosen up the muscle groups around my neck and shoulder. I have also observed many others who are above me in rank (pretty much everyone there) have twisted toes or sprained toes. I had bleeding toe last time I was there. During one session, my left ear got compressed during a grappling exercise with another white-belt student. Since then I could not sleep on my left side. So, to make the long story short, I speculate the 117 injuries per 1000 people-year figure include only the more serious types that require interruption of training. If it were to include bruises and minor ones, I would not be surprised that it would have been in the 300’s range. Given that, sources of my perceptual bias may include my ineptness in Judo and relatively advanced age compared with average beginners. In my dojo, people who usually begin training in their teens or younger. By the time they reach my age, they would have become very skilled Judokas, unlike myself.

MelissaSeptember 9th, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Peter, Almost every judoka get hurt one way or the other.
[edited by site owner]

chrisApril 30th, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Bruises are not injuries… it’s the natural warpaint of the Judoka!

lanceWJune 24th, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Hi Chris, thanks for that, yes we all carry the war paint!

More seriously, they certainly are injuries and for us they are probably the most common (except perhaps for mat burn). They need to be treated as injuries and taken care of as a small bruise hit again becomes a big bruise, a big bruise hit again becomes worse and can become a real problem.

I feel too often we don’t take these small details seriously enough and later suffer the consequences.


Big AchansAugust 4th, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Hi Lance,
I must commend and as well recommend this article to my training partners. I am a Judoka from Nigeria. Your article is a well researched one and educative. Please I shall be glad to establish a link with you, so as to keep me abreast with Judo trainings out there for comparison and possible blending or amendments to mine at my club Ahmad Bello University, Judo Club in Zaria, Kaduna State Nigeria. pls reply. Thank you and keep it up!

colin yameJune 16th, 2015 at 12:40 am

Thank you for your research on injuries, it was very informative

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