This is the first post that summarizes some of the findings from the complete data set from the BJJ Survey. For earlier results based on the first 500 or so participants see here, here, here, and here. In this post, I will report the results of my having sifted through and individually coded the open ended responses to the question about injuries. In an ideal world, two or three other independent "coders" would also compile summaries of the responses and we could then compare our inter-rater reliability. But since this is a blog post (and not a proper scientific study), my summaries will hopefully suffice as a starting point for discussion.
Since I provided the complete data set already (see here to download), if others want to dig down into the responses on injuries, I welcome their efforts. One thing that was clear from the start is that very few people followed directions! Here is the question/directions:
Q28 - Have you had any serious injuries from doing jiu jitsu (that is, injuries that required weeks or months off or perhaps even surgery?) If so, please list the injuries and very briefly explain how they occurred and how long it took to recover--e.g., ACL tear via heel hook with 9 month recovery.
While lots of people provided feedback concerning their injuries, the majority of respondents failed to provide any information concerning how they were injured. This is especially disappointing since one of the things I was personally interested in exploring is just how common it is for people to get hurt with leg locks (more on that below).
So, my approach was as follows: I first created categories into which I could place people's responses. Then, I sifted my way through responses and tallied up the injuries. While a number of people have experienced no serious injuries, others have had several. This, too, is something that will have to be explored in more detail at a later date. For now, I was only focusing on the overall responses (not on the rate of injuries for specific individuals or belt levels). So, here are my categories along with the number of times I encountered a reported injury in the findings that corresponded:
- Neck and Back: 56
- Shoulder: 87
- Elbow: 50
- Wrist: 4
- Hand and Fingers: 54
- Ribs: 84
- Hips: 6
- Knee: 140
- Ankle: 29
- Foot and Toes: 32
That gives us roughly 550 injuries overall--although it was often hard to know how to categorize people's responses. For instance, sometimes people were specific about having sprained their fingers or ribs three times. Sometimes, however, people would just say "multiple finger sprains." In the latter case, I would simply count them down for two finger injuries. That kind of uncertainty is just the cost of open ended questions. If I had it to do over again--which, alas, I don't!--I would have used pre-selected drop down menus. Live and learn, as they say. Setting that issue aside, let's dig into some more of the results.
Now because I was also interested in concussions, I tracked that as well--there were only 3 in all (which I found surprising). Finally, I had a category I simply called "other." There were 54 injuries that fell into this category--which included arm and leg breaks, broken noses, large contusions, stitches, collar bone breaks, muscle tears in the arms and chest, hernias, ruptured Achilles tendons, and even injuries to the abs and obliques. So, clearly I could have started with more fine grained categories, but such is life. One has to start somewhere and I chose the aforementioned categories. All told, there were 600+ injuries reported ranging from sprained fingers requiring tape to full blown herniated cervical discs requiring surgery.
Another noteworthy feature of the responses is just how many people specifically reported no serious injuries at all--124 people in all (or roughly 1 in 8 respondents). Lots of white belts took the survey, so I will assume that most of these people simply haven't been training enough to accumulate lists of injuries! This is something one could check with the data set, but I will leave that task for another day. For now, it is just an educated hunch!
That said, as I mentioned above, one of the things I was interested in exploring was the number of overall injuries caused by leg locks. There were 20 reported in all--which is fewer than I expected given how dangerous we are constantly told leg locks can be. Of course, it could be that because leg locks are labelled as "dangerous," people use them more carefully. So, for all I know, if people were generally more permissive with leg locks, the number of injuries would rise. I have my doubts, but there is no way of parsing this issue with the present data set.
One thing I did notice, however, while going through the responses is just how many people were injured while doing take downs (especially when it comes to the knees). So, I did an independent search for the following phrases:
- "Take down" = 5
- "Throw" = 12
- "Trip" = 4
- "Standing" = 3
- "Judo" = 13
Perhaps unsurprisingly, working on take downs led to both knee injuries and shoulder injuries (more than other injuries). As someone who has had his ACL replaced and who has also damaged the meniscus in my right knee, I wanted to see which were the most common injuries of the knee. So, while not everyone who reported a knee injury reported the specific injury, I did an independent search for the following phrases:
- "Meniscus" = 32
- "ACL" = 25
- "LCL" = 11
- "MCL" = 30
- "Patella" = 2
But enough about knees! What about the other reported injuries? One of the most common injuries was what several participants called the "BJJ rib injury"--which usually involves tearing the intercostal cartilage and/or pulling the intercostal muscles. This is an injury I have had both during my wrestling career when I was (much) younger and during my submission grappling career. In each case, it kept me sidelined for several months and when I would try to ease my way back in, I would simply re-aggravate the injury--an experience I apparently share with a number of others who have had a similar injury.
Perhaps the most alarming finding--as least for me, as someone who has a three level cervical fusion (from a cycling accident and not a BJJ injury)--is how prevalent back and even neck injuries are. Bulging lumbar and cervical disks were more common than I expected--which is all the more reason for people to add neck and back mobility exercises to their daily warm up/routines. But more on that later. For now, I just wanted to share my preliminary findings when it comes to the injuries (or lack thereof) that were reported by participants. Stay tuned for more!