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Treating neck and shoulder pain in Jiu Jitsu athletes

As a physical therapist some of my favorite exercises for treating neck and back pain from Jiu Jitsu are pec stretches on the foam roller, TRX rows, “No money” shoulder external rotation with a theraband, and lat pulls.

Upper extremity injuries are some of the most commonly seen areas of pain in combat sport athletes. As a Jiu Jitsu practitioner, I myself have struggled with neck and shoulder pain while training. But why is it so common? Well its not only because it’s a sport where people twist your arms and squeeze on your neck, but because of the postures that you have to remain in while you’re training. In every combat sport, whether it is mixed martial arts, Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, boxing, and more, athletes are taught to hunch over, keep their chin down, shoulders up, with their limbs close to their body in order to better protect themselves.

This curled up posture is great for defense and is typically the proper technique, but it causes certain muscles to become tight and overactive, while other muscles become stretched out and weakened. These are also the same postures that individuals who have desk jobs end up having. If you’re a combat sport athlete who also sits at a desk all day, you’re maintaining a rounded back posture throughout the day and during exercise when you train. Rounded back postures result in forward head position and rounded shoulders, which often get worse over time unless you strengthen what has become weak and stretch what has become tight.

Some exercises I like to do to stay healthy and in proper alignment focus on keeping a neutral spine, extension of the shoulders, and opening up of the chest:

  • Pec stretch on the foam roller: Lie down on a foam roller long-ways, with it running the length of your spine. Spread arms out completely perpendicular to your body. Hold for up to a minute 2 times. You should feel the stretch throughout your chest.

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  • TRX rows: Hang from a TRX band and pull with your hands coming towards your armpits. The more parallel your body is to the floor the more difficult the exercise will be. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.

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  • “No money” shoulder external rotation with theraband: Holding a theraband, place palms up, elbows at 90 degrees, and arms kept tight to your body. Pull your hands apart and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.

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  • Lat pulls: Holding a theraband with your palms facing up and elbows straight, extend your shoulders and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.

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I like to perform these exercises at least 5 times a week, but doing these every day, particularly following a training session is ideal. If you are a Jiu Jitsu athlete who has some neck and/or shoulder pain from combat sports, these exercises may have a positive impact on your condition.

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If pain still persists after consistent performance of these exercises, give Rose Physical Therapy a call. We have many skilled physical therapists who are familiar with treating Jui Jitsu and other combat sports athletes and we are here to help!