Best Martial Art for Someone with a Herniated Disc

A herniated disc is a serious back condition often requiring medical attention and a need to avoid re-injury. So, what is the best martial art for someone with a herniated disc?

With a herniated disc, the best martial is Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a low-impact martial art that does not put excess pressure on the body. With a herniated disc especially avoid grappling arts such as BJJ, and also avoid martial arts that focus heavily on kicking, such as Taekwondo or Muay Thai.

And, of course, never engage in any training without the consent of your doctor.

Training martial arts is one of the best things you can do. You get to have fun, make new friends, and learn how to defend yourself. However, they are very physically demanding.

There are lots of martial arts that someone with a back injury should stay away from. Let’s have a closer look at what those martial arts are.

I’ll also talk about how you can make adjustments to your training so that you can train with a bad back.

Can you do BJJ with a herniated disc?

As a general rule, you should not train BJJ with a herniated disc. This is because in BJJ you will have to perform complex techniques that put a lot of pressure on your spine.

If you train BJJ with any kind of back injury, there is a high chance that you will make your condition worse.

It is best to just stay away from all grappling martial arts in general if you have an injury. In BJJ, you will have your back folded all the time. For example, when someone is trying to pass your guard, they will “stack” you.

This is where they bring your hips over your shoulders.

These techniques harshly fold the spine. Also, there are many techniques in BJJ that require you to have a healthy and mobile back. For example, the berimbolo back take and triangle choke.

But are there some techniques that could be safely practiced?

If you want to learn more about BJJ techniques, check out this recent article on my site. I talk about the 49 most effective moves in BJJ. They are great for BJJ competitions, self-defense, and MMA!

Just click that link to read it on my site.

If you have a herniated disc, you won’t be able to practice takedowns either. This is because all it takes is for one sweep or one throw to cause you to land too hard, and you have a worse injury.

If you are really desperate to train BJJ and you have a herniated disc, then just practice techniques and don’t do drilling or sparring. Drilling is where you repeat a technique again and again in order to get it into your muscle memory.

Sparring is where you actually have a contest against a fully resisting opponent. Sparring is where most injuries occur in BJJ and other martial arts.

If you have a herniated disc, try and learn techniques from the top position.

So learn to guard pass instead of play guard. And learn the mount instead of the back mount. Ideally, you want to keep all pressure off your back.

Can you do martial arts with a herniated disc?

As a general rule, you can do martial arts if you have a herniated disc, however, you must consult your doctor first.

Only your doctor or physical therapist is going to know the full extent of your injury and what exercises will make your condition worse. If you have a herniated disc, it is much better to just rest and let it recover than try to train and go back a few steps with your recovery.

Here are some moves and martial arts that you should avoid if you have a herniated disc:

  • Guard playing (BJJ, MMA, Sambo, Judo) – guard playing is where you are on your back, and you use your legs to sweep your opponent or submit them or take their back. It is effective, however, sometimes, your spine will be folded, and this can make a back injury worse.
  • Roundhouse kicks (MMA, Muay Thai, Kickboxing) – this technique causes you to rotate your body very aggressively. It is less harmful than folding the spine but nevertheless can cause injury.
  • Being thrown and slammed (Judo, Wrestling, BJJ, MMA) – all it takes is one bad landing, and you could have a permanent injury that is much worse than what you started with.
  • Being pinned (BJJ, Wrestling, Judo, MMA) – when you pin someone, you have your face turned in an opposite direction to your hips and shoulders. This is called a “cross-face” and puts a lot of pressure on the spine.
  • Getting choked – when someone chokes you, they have to manipulate your neck. This can put pressure on your spine, making a herniated disc worse.

What martial arts are good for the back?

The best martial art for practicing with an injured back or to support good back health is Tai Chi.

This is because in Tai Chi, there is no sparring, nor are there any dynamic and explosive techniques. You don’t have to do any sparring, hit the heavy bag, or engage in high-risk activity in general.

Tai Chi is great for people recovering from injuries.

The main benefit of it is that it teaches you how to improve your mobility and breathing. This can help reduce the pain you are feeling in your back.

Tai Chi won’t make your back stronger, however, as it does not work the muscles like other martial arts. The martial arts that improve your back strength the most are BJJ and Wrestling.

This is because, in these martial arts, there is a lot of head-grabbing. This forces your neck and back muscles to work and develop. It also means that you are more at risk of a back or spine injury, however.

What martial arts are bad for your back?

Any martial art that twists your spine or causes you to fold your spine is bad for your back. Back injuries are most common in BJJ, followed by MMA and Wrestling. It is possible to train these martial arts if you are already healthy and injury-free.

However, if you jump into training with a pre-existing injury, things are likely to get worse.

Here is a list of martial arts you should avoid if you have a bad back, from the worst to the best.

  1. BJJ (the worst for your back) – In BJJ, you will get stacked, cross-faced, and choked. You will also get pinned and body-triangled, and it will most certainly make any back injuries worse.
  2. MMA – this has all the techniques of BJJ; however, you only spend about 30% of your training time on the ground doing dangerous things.
  3. Wrestling – most of the pressure in Wrestling is on the neck and not the back. Sometimes there will be pressure on your back, such as when someone sprawls on you to defend a takedown.
  4. Boxing and Muay Thai – in these sports, there is a lot of rotation. You will rotate your hips and shoulders aggressively to generate striking power. This can make a back injury worse.
  5. Traditional martial arts – training Karate, Taekwondo, and Wing Chun, are okay. There are some dynamic motions in these martial arts. However, most schools will be more lenient and won’t force you to do sparring or train hard.

Traditional Chinese martial arts may be the only thing your body can handle if you have a herniated disc.

But don’t worry, even though these martial arts have a bad reputation at the moment, they are still very effective. 

Check out this recent article on my site, where I talk about the effectiveness of Chinese martial arts. But some are way more effective than others if self-defense is your goal.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How can I train martial arts with a bad back?

If you have a bad back, the best thing to do is rest. There is no point in forcing yourself to train, only to make the injury worse and have to take even more time off.

However, if you are adamant about training, and your doctor has said it is okay, here are some tips for you.

  1. Don’t get stacked or folded. Avoid techniques in BJJ, such as the closed guard. Ask your coach if you can sit out of sparring you can.
  2. When sparring, select smaller training partners. Smaller people won’t be as strong or heavy. Therefore, there will be less pressure on your spine when you train with them.
  3. Don’t train hard. There is no need to hit that heavy bag like it’s a world championship training session. Hit with moderate force and think about improving your technique.
  4. When you are injured, your focus should be on becoming more technical. Not so much on improving your strength and explosive power and flexibility.

If you can, do some strength and conditioning with a coach to help reduce your risk of injury.

What Is A Herniated Disc - Symptoms, Causes, Treatments


A herniated disc is a crippling injury and can restrict your ability to practice martial arts.

You won’t be able to do BJJ chokes, takedowns, Wrestling, and other techniques. You may also struggle to perform punches and kicks correctly.

Almost all techniques in martial arts are going to put some pressure on your spine. They will either fold your spine or cause rotation. The only way to train with a herniated disc is to train lightly with a focus on technique.

Avoid overtraining and try not to partake in sparring.

Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay and Image by Mohamed Nuzrath from Pixabay


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