Managing minor Judo injuries.

Mat burns, bruises, scratches, black eyes, cuts, aches, torn nails, sprains, etc. Judo is a tough contact sport and as a Judo athlete you will get your fair share of minor injuries. In this post we’ll look at some of the common injuries, how you can treat them and why it is important that you do.
First Aid, Second World War
Every Judo athlete gets injured, some major some minor. Major injuries are the breaks, the concussions, torn muscles, damaged ligaments etc. These are very serious and need medical treatment.

But we also suffer from minor injuries, ranging from bumps and bruises, through to mat burns, cuts and finger nails being bent backwards. These are less serious medically but still need treating. Too often these minor injuries are ignored and can have a big impact on your training and performance over the long-term.

Many coaches and some scientific papers will tell you how much time athletes lose in their preparation due to injury. Injuries in training can ruin your peaking for competitions or take you out of events all together.

But minor injuries, the type described above that we often ignore can impact your ability to train too, possibly ruining your chances of winning. Because they are minor injuries however, the impact is often not given the attention it deserves and treatment provided often is of a lesser standard to that for major injuries.

Lets look at a common Judo example; mat burns. Mat burns are a minor injury, your average performance coach is not going to give you too much sympathy. However, it is very important that you treat a mat burn properly for both medical reasons and for training reasons. A mat burn is basically a graze, caused by the rough texture of Judo tatami (mats). You will normally get the “burn” on a soft piece of skin that is not normally in contact with the mat; for example the top of your toes or feet. The top layer (or two) of skin if removed and the flesh underneath is exposed to the air.

A mat burn stings, but generally is just a slight discomfort. Often a mat burn will simply go away as your skin naturally recovers and after a few days you’ve forgotten about it. Some times the burn causes a scab to form and these burns can take longer to heal and can be uncomfortable for quite some time. Worse yet, mat burns can easily become infected and become red and very painful. This in turn can lead to bigger issues if the infection spreads.

Mat burns need treatment, they need cleaning and dressing. You should wash every mat burn as soon as possible and you’ll probably not like this, but anti-septic (the stinging stuff) should probably be applied. You then want to cover the burn.

It’s important to consider the environment in which you got the burn. You got it off the mat, where lots of people have been walking/fighting, where people have been doing ne-waza and people have been sweating. There are a lot of bacteria potentially floating around, bacteria looking for a nice moist pace to live and grow… a mat burn is ideal. So cleaning and covering a mat burn is really important for you, it will hopefully prevent burn getting infected. It also prevents you spreading anything nasty around the dojo and infecting anyone else. We are all carrying our own fair share of bacteria, germs, etc. By cleaning and covering a mat burn you are helping ensure that both you and your team mates stay healthy.

Proper treatment will also help prevent your training being affected. Mat burns are not serious injuries, but they do hurt and can really put you off your training, especially if they get infected and sore! You won’t enjoy doing your Judo as much (if at all) if that mat burn you got on your elbow hurts everytime someone takes a grip there will you; so take care of them properly.

Bruises too are generally not a huge problem, but they are often not treated at all; which is not sensible as they again can affect your training pretty quickly. Take the classic Judo bruise… a heel direct to your shin, BANG! If you don’t follow the R.I.C.E. protocol a bruise can become much larger than it should be. This in turn will make it more painful and cause it to take longer to heal. So you will have a period of time where any contact with your shin is going to make you cringe in pain; which will distract you form your training and more often than not change the way you move, defend and attack.

So again, treating a bruise (or the initial bang/bump) as soon as possible with Ice or a cold pack and some compression will potentially save you lots of discomfort and disturbed training in the future. As with mat burns, taking 5 minutes out of a session to treat the injury and then getting back on the mat can save hours of lost training or lost quality of training over the following days or weeks.

The same advice of treating minor injuries promptly and properly applies to most injuries. The sooner you treat an injury, the less the injury is likely to affect you that session, that day and later on.

What can you do?

Firstly, be aware that you need to look after your minor injuries. Treat them as threats to your training. Time is precious and it is better to spend 5 minutes out of todays session than to ruin lots of sessions in the future.

Secondly, take responsibility for your injuries. Don’t “train on”, go off, get patched up, go back on and catch up. There is a fine line of course between being too quick to run off the mat and not looking after yourself. But it is your body, your career and your dreams at stake. So it’s up to you to make sure you look after yourself. Which leads us to…

Bring your own first aid kit to every session. Most Judo athletes will have some strapping tape in their bag; but you are unlikely to find one with anti-septic wipes, cold packs, plasters, compression bandages etc. So how about you be the athlete who came prepared and has a small first aid kit in their bag. We are not talking about a generic one from the pharmacy, rather a first aid kit designed for you and for Judo. So you want to try and find a box/bag and fill it with just the things you need for Judo minor injuries.

No need for a sling, thats for a major injury. But you will want anti-spetic wipes to clean scratches, cuts, grazes and mat burns. And ice pack or cold pack is a great idea and might just be a case of buy a bag of frozen peas and taking it out of the freezer before every session and wrapping it in a towel and bringing it to Judo, then developing the habit of taking it out and putting in in the freezer again.  You’ll want tape of course, plasters but also some of those larger sterile nonstick pads to put on grazes and mat burns. Maybe some of that “spray on skin” dressing stuff and maybe some of that great cold spray that seems to work magic on rugby players.

Put together your own little first aid kit and take it to EVERY Judo session. Then no matter what club you are training at, if you get a war wound you can patch yourself up quickly and get back into your training. It is really bad how often you will see a Judo player take a knock or twist an ankle and have to wait ages for some ice to be gotten from somewhere. They’ll often be sat off the mat for 10 minutes just waiting for the ice/cold pack before they get it and then have to spend another 5-10 minutes with the cold pack. If you have your own cold pack, you can just go off, ice it for 5-10 minutes and be back on the mat potentially before the other guy/girl has even got an icepack. Then you are getting more training in whilst they get ice applied. And of course, they’ve had 10 minutes of not treating the bruise/bump; so it’s had more time to swell and that’ll take longer to recover from too.

The same is true of cuts, scratches and even bloody noses. If you have everything you need near to hand in your bag, you can quickly clean and dress the cut, and be back on the mat in a few moments. Rather than sitting on the sidelines whilst someone goes looking for cotton wool or plasters. You have both decreased the risk of the injury getting worse and decreased the amount of time lost in your training.


So hopefully, this post has got you thinking about the minor injuries we all suffer from time to time in our Judo training. You’ll understand how not treating minor injuries can, when you look at the bigger picture; cause you to lose both time in training and decrease the quality and enjoyment of your training. And hopefully, you’ll consider putting a small first aid kit in your bag from now on and taking responsibility for your own injuries and minimising the impact they have on your dreams for gold medals.

Comments (4)

julioSeptember 24th, 2010 at 3:27 am

anyone out there with ankylosys spondylitis practices judo

LisaSeptember 10th, 2011 at 4:03 am

How do I prevent mat burns?

AmberJuly 8th, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Thanks for this, I am 14 and had one of my first judo sessions yesterday , I came away with pulled muscles in both arms and shoulders , also got a few scratches and bruises but I loved it and the injuries get me out if sports day! can’t wait for my next lesson! 🙂

sam loweJuly 20th, 2012 at 9:26 pm

this was quite helpful as i was looking for advice for my 11 yr old. he has an amazing bruise on his shoulder from a throw in judo on tues but has only shown it me today (fri) after not having much sleep last night with the discomfort! i will most def be putting a few bits in a box for first aid!

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