BJJ athletes can breathe easy, new research suggests lower risk of Brain Injury

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of South Wales (USW) has revealed that practitioners of BJJ may be less prone to long-term brain damage than previously feared.

BJJ involves controlled application of submissions including those that are applied to the neck which exposes participants to intermittent asphyxiation.

The sport favors limb manipulation and neck attacks to bring an opponent into submission. However, the possibility of repetitive asphyxiations leading to structural brain damage and cognitive impairment has raised concerns.

This new study by the Neurovascular Research Laboratory at USW is the first of its kind and sheds new light on the issue. The team examined the blood flow to the brain and cognitive function of elite BJJ athletes using Duplex ultrasonography and neuropsychological tests, respectively.

The results showed that BJJ athletes had higher resting blood flow to the brain, and their cognitive function was intact compared to a control group of athletes matched by age, gender, and cardiorespiratory fitness.

The study’s lead researcher, Benjamin Stacey, says the popularity of BJJ is growing exponentially, thanks in part to its effectiveness in Mixed Martial Arts MMA events. BJJ is also inclusive, with people of all ages, sexes, and physical abilities able to train together. Compared to other combat sports, BJJ carries a lower risk of injury.

Stacey adds that the findings challenge the notion that BJJ predisposes individuals to a greater risk of long-term brain damage. Instead, the study provides evidence for enhanced brain protection.

According to Benjamin Stacey, a lecturer in clinical science, these findings can help inform further research into the short and long-term implications of participation in BJJ. The popularity of BJJ is growing exponentially, and its unique protective benefits for the brain should encourage more individuals to participate in the sport.

The submission pre-conditioning and exposure to BJJ-specific high-intensity interval training may be contributing factors to the enhanced protection for the brain observed in BJJ athletes.