Judo Injuries

Judo is a contact sport; consequently, injuries are fairly common, although serious injuries are rare. Some of the most common judo injuries are explored below:

Back injuries

Examples of back injuries

Back pain

Back pain is one of the most common conditions in the U.K, with people of all ages and backgrounds complaining of suffering from frequent back aches. In judo, back pain is caused as a result of repeated falling, lifting, stretching and twisting. Back pain can usually be treated with analgesic medication and rest; physiotherapy and osteopathy can also benefit back pain sufferers. Lifting opponents can put pressure on the back muscles which may cause them to strain; this will often cause pain both during and after the activity. Sharp lifting movements can be particularly dangerous and can lead to ligament and muscle sprains and tears.

Slipped disc

Slipped, or prolapsed, discs occur when one vertebrae slips on to the vertebra beneath it. Common symptoms of a slipped disc include severe back pain, restricted movement and nerve root pain (this is caused when a slipped disc puts pressure on a nerve ending). Some people will not suffer any obvious symptoms. Slipped discs may require surgery but initial treatments will often be trialled first; these include plenty of rest, pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication as well as physiotherapy, osteopathy or chiropractic.

Spinal injuries

Spinal injuries are relatively rare but the constant physical contact and repeated heavy landing on the ground in judo can increase the risk of suffering from a spinal injury. Spinal injuries are usually serious and can be potentially life-threatening. Spinal injuries are commonly caused by high speed impact with an object surface or another person, accidents and falls. Landing awkwardly after a fall can have serious implications for the spine. Spinal injuries imply a degree of damage to the spinal cord which may, in mild cases, temporarily affect sensations and feelings; more serious injuries can cause localised or complete paralysis and even death. All spinal injuries should be checked over by a doctor; however symptoms such as a loss of feeling and reaction to stimuli should be treated as quickly as possible. Recovery from spinal injuries may take a long time and some people may never fully recover; the back must be rested for a long period of time during the healing process and a cast may be worn to align the spine and support the bones.

Cuts and bruises

Cuts and bruises are part and parcel of judo as it is a contact sport. Cuts are usually superficial and heal quickly; more serious cuts may need to be stitched or glued to stem blood flow and enable the wound to heal. Deeper cuts may lead to scarring.

Bruising usually results from bleeding under the skin and will usually appear after an incident has occurred. Generally, bruises heal quickly and require no treatment although there are creams available to encourage healing. Bruises are usually visible as they appear as patches of discoloured skin; usually bruises are purple or brown.

Knee injuries

Knee injuries are the most common injury in judo due to quick changes of direction, repeated falling and constant physical contact.

Types of knee injury

Ligament damage

Ligaments are frequently damaged in judo; this is generally caused by changing direction quickly and landing awkwardly. Ligaments support the joint and enable a range of movement; when the body makes a movement which stretched the ligament beyond this limit, it may become sprained, or in some cases torn.

Ligament sprains

Sprains may be minor or major depending on the nature of the injury and the extent of the damage; sometimes more than one ligament can be sprained. Minor sprains will usually cause pain and swelling but this can usually be eased with pain relief medication, ice and anti-inflammatory medicines. The knee will need to be rested in order to allow it time to heal; connective tissue heals much more slowly than bone so recovery may take several weeks. More serious sprains will require a long recovery period and may require surgical treatment. Gentle exercises and physiotherapy may help to strengthen the ligaments once the healing process in underway.

Ligament tears

Ligaments tears are often extremely painful and can have long-lasting effects. Ligament tears usually occur as a result of direct impact to the knee; this commonly causes the knee to buckle. Tears to the exterior ligaments (the medial and lateral collateral ligaments), which run on the outside of the joint are often less serious than those that affect the cruciate ligaments (the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments) which are located inside the knee joint; however, these injuries are still serious and will usually need a period of at least 6 weeks to recover. Cruciate ligament tears often have serious implications and can cause permanent damage to the knee; consequently, many professional sports players undergo surgery to improve the chances of recovery. Recovery from ligament tears is a lengthy process and may take months; physiotherapy will often help to speed up recovery and increase strength around the joint.

Cartilage tear

Cartilage acts as an absorber for pressure applied to the knee joint; there are two principal strands of cartilage in the knee; these include the lateral and medial meniscus. It is more common for the lateral meniscus, which is located on the outer side of the knee, to be damaged than the medial meniscus, which runs on the inner side of the joint. Cartilage tears are usually caused by a sudden movement or a movement which carries on while the foot is still planted on the ground; this causes the knee to twist. Symptoms of cartilage tears include severe localised pain, especially when the leg is straight. Other symptoms include swelling and a lack of movement around the knee joint. Treatment for minor tears will usually heal over a period of roughly 6 weeks; during this time, the knee should be rested. More serious tears may need to be repaired surgically; this will usually be done by means of an arthroscopy (keyhole surgery).


Kneecap (patellar) dislocations are much more common than knee joint dislocations; in the event of a kneecap dislocation, the kneecap becomes displaced from its position at the end of the femur, changing the visible appearance of the knee. Often, the kneecap can be placed back in its original position fairly easily. Knee joint locations are much more serious and involve the tibia becoming detached from the end of the femur. Symptoms of dislocation include an altered physical appearance of the joint, severe pain and swelling. Knee joint dislocations will usually require surgery to re-set the joint; after this has been completed, the patient will need to use crutches to prevent the knee from bearing weight. Once the knee has started to heal, physiotherapy will help to gradually increase the range of movement and increase flexibility in the joint.

Shoulder injuries

Acromioclavicular joint sprain (AC joint)

The acromioclavicular joint joins the clavicle (collarbone) to the scapula (shoulder blade); this can clearly be identified as the bony mass on the top of the shoulder. This joint can become sprained as a result of direct contact, high speed impact or falling onto the shoulder or an outstretched hand; this causes pressure to radiate up the arm to the collarbone. Symptoms of AC joint sprain include localised pain which may subsequently spread to other parts of the shoulder, back and arms and swelling; pain often intensifies when the arms are raised above the head. Treatment commonly includes immobilising the joint by using a sling, applying ice to the affected area and taking analgesic and anti-inflammatory medication.


Dislocations of the shoulder joint are usually caused by high speed impact or a fall. In judo, dislocations are often caused as a result of landing forcefully or awkwardly after being ‘thrown’. Symptoms usually include a visible abnormality in the physical appearance of the shoulder, severe pain and swelling. Initial treatment will involve placing the shoulder joint back in its original position; this is also known as reducing a dislocation. Following this procedure the affected arm will usually be placed in a sling to allow the joint to heal and prevent further damage. If the dislocation is severe and the tissue around the joint has been damaged considerably, surgery may be required; recovery for complex dislocations may be lengthy. Physiotherapy will help to gradually improve movement and strengthen the muscles and connective tissue surrounding the joint.

Impingement syndrome

This condition is common in swimmers and throwers but can also be common in judo thanks to the action of ‘throwing’ an opponent. Impingement syndrome is primarily caused by inflammation of the tendons surrounding the rotator cuff muscles during the process of travelling through the subacromial space; this causes the tendons to swell, causing there to be a decrease in the space available for movement; subsequently movement becomes restricted, or impinged as the tendons get trapped. Symptoms generally include pain, especially when the shoulder is moved and the arms are lifted upwards, swelling and limited movement around the joint. Treatment generally includes plenty of rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling and pain relief. Some athletes may have steroid injections in the affected area to further reduce swelling. Physiotherapy and specific exercises may help to increase the range of movement and flexibility around the joint.

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