Dealing With Ligament Injury and Knee Pain From BJJ

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Knee pain is something that everyone who trains BJJ will experience at least one time in their life. For some it’s a niggling injury, for others, reconstructive surgery. No matter the case, knee pain friggin’ sucks the big one.

I know how much you dread missing out on Jiu Jitsu, getting rusty and out of shape, so below I’ve broken down a few possible causes for your knee pain along with advice to help you get back on the mats.

Before we get into it, I want to state that the info in this article was never intended to replace the advice or diagnosis from your doctor. Each case of knee pain should always be dealt with through medical professionals, however I hope that the info provided will give you peace of mind and help you help your doctor in diagnosing the issue.

Analysing Your Knee Pain 

Knee pain in BJJ is generally caused by injury, wear and tear or poor mobility in the joints and tissues below and above the knee; such as the calves, ankles, hamstrings, quads, glutes and hips.

To understand what’s causing your knee pain you need to first consider the factors mentioned above in combination with where you feel the pain.


The ligaments of the knee play a key role in connecting the upper leg to the lower leg.

Injuries to these ligaments are commonly referred to as sprains and are classified in three levels:

  1. Grade 1 – Mild stretching of the ligament, where the knee joint has been able to maintain stability
  2. Grade 2 – Stretching of the ligament resulting in a partial tear
  3. Grade 3 – A complete tear of the ligament causing the joint to become unstable

There are 4 major ligaments that are often injured in BJJ:


Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)

Symptoms of Injury

  • A loud popping sound when injured
  • Swelling
  • Severe pain
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Instability

Probably the most common ligament injury in athletes, a torn ACL won’t heal on its own and will require surgery. After this, it may take 6 months or more before physical activity can be resumed.

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL)

Symptoms of Injury

  • Swelling
  • Pain on the inner aspect of the knee (the side closest to your other knee)
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Locking of the joint
  • Instability

MCL injuries have been known to heal with rest. However, severe tears will require surgery. Recovery times depend on the grade of the injury and can take anywhere from 1 to 8 weeks to heal.

Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL)

Symptoms of Injury

  • Swelling on the outer aspect of the knee
  • Pain in the outer aspect of the knee
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Locking of the joint
  • Instability

LCL injuries will limit your ability to sit in the butterfly guard, also hindering positions like the lasso guard or moves like the technical stand up.

Tightness can also be experienced in this area of the knee due to the musculature of the quads and hamstrings creating mass tension on the illiotibial band (IT Band), which serves as a wall between the anterior and posterior aspects of the upper leg.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL)

Symptoms of injury:

  • Pain and tenderness in the rear of the knee
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Instability

Usually, hyperextension or a blow to the knee in a flexed position is the cause for most PCL injuries.

Best Practices for Recovery 

Ok, so how you recover from a ligament injury in the knee depends on the grade of the injury, the ligament and your current health and physical level.

In cases of Grade 3 injuries, assuming you wish to resume physical activity in the future, surgery will most likely be needed.

In less severe cases, the following practices should be able to provide you with some relief and get you back on the road to recovery.

1. Rest/Decrease the load

This step is a no brainer, however the amount of people who opt to train around an injured knee, in the fear of losing time on the mats, is mind-boggling.

Don’t be a tough guy/girl. Taking the time to rest and decrease the stress on your knee will help you spend more time on the mats in the long run, while training around it will increase the chances of severe and ongoing injury.

2. Reduce Inflammation

During your resting periods, it is important that you do whatever you can to reduce inflammation.

Inflammation is the body’s automatic response to an injury, however excess inflammation also reduces recovery time by restricting blood flow in and out of the affected area.

To speed up recovery, you need to improve blood flow, as it is vital for repair and cell growth.

The best methods for reducing inflammation in the knee include:

  • Elevation of the leg
  • The use of compression socks or bandages
  • The use of foam rollers, balls and other tools for self myofascial release in the muscle tissues above and below the knee – Note: do not use these tools directly on the knee or ligaments of the knee
  • Light movement, if the pain isn’t too severe
  • Cutting out pro inflammatory foods from your diet. For example – refined sugars and carbohydrates, as high blood sugar levels have been linked to increased inflammation in the body

 3. Seek help from doctor/physio/osteopath

As I mentioned earlier, this article was never intended to replace consultation with your doctor.

In the case of ligament pain in the knee, I would always suggest a scan along with your doctor’s diagnosis to determine the necessary steps to be taken.

Ignoring knee pain now will cause more serious issues for you in your future, as the constant stress the knee faces as a load bearing joint can lead to more significant tears and associated injuries – Injuries that could have been prevented.

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