Can I Do Judo With a Bad Back?


people, healthcare and problem concept - close up of man suffering from pain in back or reins over gray background

Injuries come with the territory when doing contact sports such as Judo. But sometimes we have an old injury when we’re looking to start training. In that case, can I do Judo with a bad back?

Here’s what I know, having practiced it for a bit:

With a doctor’s release and an instructor aware of the limitations, it is possible to train Judo with a bad back. However, back pain limits one’s ability to learn the full spectrum of Judo techniques, especially throws and falls. But there are other techniques which could be trained more safely.

But it’s not advisable to start a training regime unless one has been checked by a qualified medical practitioner and has been informed it is safe to proceed.

The nature of most contact sports makes it likely that one could get injured at one point or another. Of course, there are ways to prevent a lot of injuries.

So, they don’t stop most folks from engaging in the “gentle art.” Judo, fortunately, is not about brute force; it’s about being smart. It’s about techniques that require minimum energy and yet yield maximum efficiency.

In this article, we’ll explore the question of how feasible it is to do Judo if you’ve got a bad back, how common injuries are in the sport, and other interesting issues around injuries and Judo.

Let the fun begin…

Is Judo hard on the body?

Judo is hard on the body. This is because it is essentially a game of throwing people and being thrown to the ground before a submission. That is tough on its own, but there’s also the added risk that one could injure or break certain body parts if one lands awkwardly.

Judo is physically demanding. It involves being thrown, slammed, choked, and hyperextended. You bet it’s got to be tough on the body.

It’ll take some time before you’ll get used to being smashed to the ground, being swept off one’s feet, arm locks, chokeholds…

The first few weeks of training may be particularly hard on you. (Not that subsequent weeks would be a walk in the park). Why?

You may get thrown when you haven’t really mastered the art of Ukemi.

It’s the art of receiving a fall gracefully. This is a key part of Judo that helps reduce the possibility of getting injured. Even when you’re the one smashing someone to the ground, you’re not immune from the heat.

Here are a few of the possible “side effects” of Judo:

  • Knee and shoulder injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Nerve injuries from too much gripping
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cauliflower ear

Of course, not everybody experiences these. After all, our bodies differ.

Can one learn Judo at home? In a recent article of mine, I shared effective, inexpensive, and actionable strategies that’ll help you teach yourself. You might be surprised to learn you can even earn a black belt from home!

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Are injuries common in Judo?

Statistics on the 2008 and 2012 Olympic competitions showed a 12% average injury rate, so injuries are common in Judo. This is because it is a contact sport that involves throws, chokes, and some holds. And those who haven’t mastered the art of falling properly face a greater risk.

A study revealed that contusions, sprains, and strains of the fingers, knees, and shoulders were the most common injuries occasioned by frequent throws.

The most chronic injuries often affected the ears, lower back, and finger joints. Severe injuries affecting the brain and the spine were rare.

Another study confirmed the study above.

It showed statistics relating to the parts of the body that’s most prone to injuries. It indicated that extremities of the body such as the knees, shoulders, and fingers are often highly impacted.

It’s understandable why these body parts are the most common areas.

That’s because the fingers are used intensely when you grip an opponent, throwing another almost always involves the use of the shoulder, and you’ll land on your knees a lot.

  • Knees 28%
  • Shoulders 22%
  • Fingers 30%

But most of the injuries are not so serious that practitioners stop engaging in the art.

They may stop for a few months, heal, and get back in the game. But, of course, the best option is to always see a doc and listen to them.

Do Judo throws hurt your back?

Judo throws do not necessarily hurt one’s back. When one has mastered Ukemi — the art of falling gracefully, the likelihood of being hurt when one is thrown on one’s back is low. However, throws are likely to hurt one’s back if one lands in the wrong way or throws someone improperly.

If Judo throws always hurt one’s back, most Judokas will quit a few days or weeks into the training. In a good dojo, one of the first Judo techniques that beginners are taught is Ukemi, the art of falling gracefully.

Of course, accidents do happen. But, the more skilled you become, the less likely the throws would be hurtful.

Let’s face it, Judo is tough on the body (the back included), but the more skilled you become, the lower the possibility your back would be hurt. Judo is essentially a game of throws.

And yet, integral to the game are techniques to reduce the possibility that you’d be taken down frequently and that you’d land on your back in a manner that’s hurtful.

You’ve heard that Krav Maga is awesome for self-defense.

But you’re wondering if a person with a bad back can do it. Luckily, that’s the theme of a recent article of mine. Check out the answer. What really surprised me was how many techniques there are that don’t rely on the back whatsoever.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is Judo mostly done on the ground?

No. Much of Judo is done standing, waiting for the opportune moment to throw the opponent down and submit them quickly. So, a considerable chunk of Judo consists of trying to avoid being thrown to the ground.

One wins by immobilizing an opponent on the ground for at least 25 seconds.

The game is won on the ground, but most of the fight is done while standing. You’ve got to be able to throw an opponent to the ground in a way that is aligned with the rules. The bulk of the game is played while standing, fighting man to man, as it were.

Why Judo is mostly done standing is easy to understand. A skilled opponent knows that once you’re able to pin them, the game is over.

So, a considerable chunk of the game lies in resisting the “trip to the ground,” and that’s done while standing. Of course, the fight continues on the ground (Newaza), but it’s often short-lived.

A great example is a fight I once saw with MMA fighter and Olympic Judo Bronze medalist Ronda Rousey.

Once the fight actually went to the ground, which took under 10 seconds, Rousey got her opponent to tap in just 8 seconds. So with trained fighters, once Judo goes to the ground, it doesn’t usually last long.

Aikido is another art that’s mostly done standing. How does it compare with Judo? I explored both in a recent article of mine.

In it, I showed that Judo is more offensive, while Aikido is more defensive. Judo is mostly about throws. Aikido has more moves employed from a standing position.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What is the best martial art if you have a bad back?

Tai chi is the best martial art if you have a bad back, as it is not done with a partner and can be performed at the speed and intensity appropriate for the individual. Since it is not physically demanding, relatively speaking, the strain on the back can be minimal, if any at all.

Why choose Tai Chi?

At first glance, it seems like a trivial, graceful dance, but it’s actually a profound, ancient, effective art form that offers many benefits. In fact, it’s one of the martial arts promoted by Harvard Medical School.

In one of the school’s publications on the healing power of Tai Chi, the following was shared:

No More Pain–A growing number of clinical trials show that tai chi offers significant relief from back, neck, arthritis, and fibromyalgia pain.”

The Yang Style short form is the best style to get started with. It’s been codified into a set of steps that you could go through with relative ease.

It’s a series of graceful, flowing circular movements that can be done by anybody, irrespective of age, size, or gender. The style has 24 forms.

Tai Chi is not complicated. It’s made up of simple postures and movements, which are like a coordinated, graceful dance in slow-mo.

The forms are practiced as a whole, helping with integrating the body-mind-spirit. The practitioner pays attention to their breathing as they execute these effortless movements.

In addition to other benefits of Tai Chi, the Yang style offers full cardio-workout, which makes the practitioner more flexible.

Conclusion

We found out if Judo is hard on the body and we checked out some injuries that are common in Judo.

It turns out that the knees, shoulders, and fingers are the most vulnerable parts.

We looked at whether throws hurt one’s back and whether Judo is mostly played out on the ground. Finally, we explored the best martial art for a bad back.

Wonder how Judo compares to Taekwondo?

I compare both of those in a recent article. Both are Olympic sports, but do the similarities stop there? Are there any techniques that overlap? Which one is better?

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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