I’ve been debating whether to write a blog on this topic for a while. I’m not a medical expert or anything wonderful like that. But considering that I have been dealing with lower back injuries (particularly involving the Si joint) for over a year I am reasonably well placed to at least offer an opinion. Plus when I was going through the frantic OCD googling stage to find BJJ related advice on my injury I got really frustrated as simply couldn’t find much information which I guess is as good a reason as any to write down what I’ve learnt!
Right disclaimer time! As I mentioned above I am not a medical expert! I am a female grappler who has been trying to fix herself (with help) for over a year. This blog is purely based on my own experiences which brings me onto my first big piece of advice…
Find a Professional
The biggest thing in all of this is finding out exactly what you’ve done and what happening with your body. From there you can plan a treatment and rehab programme. Until then your basically fishing in the dark! You can self diagnose to a point and there are a lot of websites that explain what SI joint injury is and how its treated etc. But there is the potential that you are wrong in your self diagnosis. This might delay your healing time or potentially make things worse! I have posted about using a chiropractor before and she has been my go to person in terms of back injuries but I have also been using a great sports therapist to help with the grumpy muscles and associated imbalances etc. So if you have injured your back please get a qualified opinion on what you’ve done!
Patience and Rest (and Ice)
It totally sucks but there isn’t really any shortcuts to healing with your SI joint. My first major back injury was roughly six weeks before the World Masters last year. For obvious reasons I trained around this and pushed through to compete with the help of lots physio tap and a few pain killers (not the best approach). Then stupidly as I had managed to compete I then tried to just push through (thinking it would just go away) and carried on training after the worlds. The result was having to take most of december and january off training completely in order to heal up! When I had a minor relapse in June I instantly took nearly two weeks off and have had a much smoother and speedier rehab process as a result (so far touch wood!).
In addition to rest, ice is also your best friend during these initial phases. You need to keep the inflammation in the joint and the ligaments down so it really does help to regularly ice it (even up to a couple of times a day).
I have blogged about CBD oil in the past and it was due this injury I was suggested it. It really is a great anti inflammatory and I believe it really helped me (especially helping me to sleep in a n evening. So I am not going to go into in-depth here and instead recommend you read my other post to find out more.
Sitting for long periods of time isn’t great for you anyway. But it certainly isn’t when you have an SI or lower back injury. In fact it gets really painful! So having regular breaks from your desk (stretching and exercises in the loo’s was my usual trick) as well as planning road trips so that you get regular breaks from driving can all help your healing, comfort and generally being able to function off the mat.
You need to sleep to function and heal and there is nothing worse than not being able to go to sleep or being woken in the night due to an injury. There are various pieces of advice regarding sleep position. One recommends sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees to lessen the strain on the joint. Another recommends sleeping (on your none injured side) with a pillow between your legs. Essentially I have tried both; where one didn’t work that well the other did so I suspect it depends on you your injury and its healing stage. Personally I don’t think it’s an essential part of a treatment plan but its useful to consider in the earlier stages. When I’m tired I get really cranky!
I didn’t use taping generally to help my recovery. The only exception was when I competed at the World Masters. It was explained to me as a bit of a security blanket – it wasn’t going to do any harm and hopefully it would help keep things functioning enough to get me through the competition without any more significant damage. Personally I think that’s a fair enough summation. It didn’t really significantly improve things but it make me feel better / safer about stepping on the mats. If you want to look at taping yourself the video I used to help my memory can be found on YouTube (the specific section is at the 2 min 20 mark)
Moving onto the rehab side of things it basically falls into three areas – strength and conditioning, stretching (inc self massage) and discovering self adjustment. But no matter what your rehab programme is you have to stick to it. This is genuinely one of those things that won’t improve for the long-term without a focused effort on your part.
Strength and Conditioning
This is one injury that doesn’t just go away (and stay away) without committing to your rehab programme. SI joint injuries include damage ligaments, but because of where they are there are a host of muscle involved and you can guarantee some of these will misbehave as a result! For me it was my lazy arse! Or to be more specific an inactive glute medius which resulted in other muscles doing more work including the psoea which got very tight and tired and then finally discovered that I had weak hamstrings.
I’m not going to give a full breakdown of my programme as one it would be a whole other blog; and secondly Factory Fitness who does my strength and conditioning was my mastermind for the exercise part of things with a range of lunges, deadlifts, core activation exercises amongst other things that generally were difficult to do!
My Sports Therapist and Chiropractor gave me other things to do at home including some core exercises, lunges and bridges (double and single legs). The King of these for me were “Monster Walks” which on the run up to the Worlds I did every single day. There the first exercise I start doing again when things start feeling a bit sore or start flaring up again. As you can see by the video (filmed in Vegas days before competition) there not really difficult and you can get a basic set of bands to assist these on Amazon. I have since progressed onto a more heavy duty fabric elastic band that can also be found on Amazon.
Self Massage and Stretching
Yoga for BJJ – Sebastian Broche and Yoga for BJJ has done a specific video and sequence for Si joints on his websites which I found useful and added into my rehab programme as well a elements into warm up and cool downs. To get a taster he has done a free video via YouTube on back pain.
Other than that it was a case of through foam rolling (hamstring, glutes, quads and lower back) and occasionally using a lacrosse ball when things need more deep tissue work. A quick google will show you how to massage if you’re not sure but as part of the lower back rehab section on Yoga for BJJ Rosi Sexton has done a break down of stretches, strengthening and foam roller exercises. It is in the subscription only section of the site but they do offer a free 14 day trial for new users (so if your injured give it a shot!)
I’ve put these last as there certainly not a cure-all and if you don’t know what you have injured then you can potentially make things worse! However, I had been shown one or two of these already by my therapist and chiropractor so I did end up going down a bit of a rabbit hole on YouTube to try to find things that would help get and keep things in place. These are the ones I found most useful –
- This video by Kelly Scarlett has been my go to add into my warm ups, cool downs and rehab sessions. As you can see its a really low risk, low impact movement but one that can genuinely help with pelvic issues (go to around 5:20 to skip to the exercise).
- This video shows a range yoga based exercises that can help. I don’t have a yoga block but found using a lid, pillow or foam roller helped to do these. I particular found following my rehab and warm up if I did the first exercise (rocking hips) then I would occasionally experience clicks and crunches in my hip followed by relief.
We all know injuries suck but hopefully you’ve found my blog useful and if you have any other tips and thoughts feel free to get in touch. But don’t forget if you’re in any doubt about an injury please seek professional advice.