Knees aren't the only things that take a real beating in jiu jitsu. Considering how much you use and rely on your arms in jiu jitsu - and how many attacks there are to this particular appendage - those puppies can be pretty vulnerable to a host of different injuries and afflictions.
Read on to learn about the most common elbow injuries you might encounter and what you can, or will, have to do about it...
Bursitis is the inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs, called bursae, that act as cushions at the joints, helping to decrease friction between moving tissues, such as bone, muscle, tendons, and skin. Bursitis is often caused by repetitive minor impacts - oh so common in many sports - but can also result from more serious trauma to the area. Symptoms include rapid swelling around the joint that is also warm and tender to the touch. Bursitis will usually clear up with rest, icing, elevation, and over-the-counter inflammatories, but more serious cases can be drained, or injected with corticosteroids. Some athletes are still able to train with it, but because it is so painful to the touch and jiu jitsu involves a lot of elbow-to-ground contact, the best option is to rest until it clears up.
Similar to bursitis, tendonitis can also be caused by repetitive movements, can be accompanied by swelling (though not always), and is quite painful... at least until you warm up, when it fades to a dull ache. There are two types, depending on which tendon it afflicts: lateral epicondylitis, or "tennis elbow," and medial epicondylitis, or "golfer's elbow". Aside from rest, ice and pain killers, there's not too much else you can do on your own, and may in fact be all you need to do. However, for more serious cases, you can see a medical professional for a corticosteroid shot, Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment - in which they take a sample of your own blood, spin it really fast to separate the platelets and good stuff, then inject it back into the affected area - physical therapy, dry needling, or ultra-sonic treatment (to remove tendon scar tissue). If you have to resort to surgery, you probably have a more serious issue than just tendonitis.
Pinched nerves at the elbow - also called "ulnar nerve entrapment" (oooo fancy) - are also relatively common in jiu jitsu and other sports in which the elbow moves repetitively and in unpredictable ways. In fact, the "most common place for compression of the nerve is behind the inside part of the elbow," according to WebMD. Common symptoms include: numbness and tingling in the ring finger and little finger and weakening of the grip. You can typically treat it pretty well with anti-inflammatories (corticosteroid shots are not suggested due to risk of nerve damage), bracing or splinting your elbow, and "nerve gliding exercises."
Sprains and Strains
Oh yes... no guide on sports injuries is complete without mentioning sprains and strains. What's the difference? A sprain is the stretching or tearing of the ligaments (the bone-to-bone connectors), while a strain is the stretching or tearing of the muscles or tendons (the bone to muscle connectors). Spains and strains occur when a particular part of your body moves beyond its natural range of motion... armbars anyone? Both show very similar symptoms - pain, swelling, limited ability to move the afflicted area - but sprains are typically accompanied by a "pop" sound or feeling when the injury happens, and will include bruising, and strains are often accompanied by muscle spasms. Treatment for both is often just RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation), but see a medical professional if it feels pretty serious.
Not quite as common as sprains and strains, but dislocations of the elbow can happen. And it's not just the result of a wicked armbar - that you may or may not have had too much ego to tap to - but also if you're getting swept or taken down hard and you plant your hand into the mat, instead of taking the fall. In technical terms, a dislocation happens when the "bone is pulled or pushed out of place." It can be a "partial" dislocation, or a "complete" dislocation, and can range from simple (no major bone injury), to complex (sever accompanying bone and ligament injury) or severe (where even the blood vessels and nerves have been compromised). Treatment? Go to the emergency room. And after they're done with you, take a break from the mats for a little while. Don't mess around with dislocations, especially if you want to have a long jiu jitsu career.
Last, but certainly not least: fractures. I must stress that jiu jitsu is not some kind of paddy-cake sport. Even in the most careful of situations, accidents happen. Elbow fractures can "result from a fall, a direct impact to the elbow, or a twisting injury to the arm," all of which are oh-so-common in the practice of jiu jitsu. Just as with sprains, fractures are accompanied by pain, swelling, bruising and stiffness around the elbow... so it'll be hard to tell at first that it's a fracture rather than a sprain, unless it's a full-on break or "open fracture" (when the bone is protruding from the skin). The best thing you can do is go to the ER and have a professional check it out. Yeah, it will cost a pretty penny - and they might order a CT scan to be sure, which will cost even more pretty pennies - but it's a small price to pay for ease of mind and/or appropriate treatment.
Once again, don't just rely on your - or my - WebMD skills, no matter how ninja they might be, to diagnose elbow injuries from impact or falling. If in doubt, get it checked out by a licensed medical professional. The sooner you know for sure what the problem is, the faster you'll be able to fix it, and the sooner you'll be back on the mats.
Train on... safely. Oss.