Skin Infections: Let’s Talk
How are you protecting your skin?
Skin infections occur more infrequently than expected in Jiu Jitsu due to the expectation of cleanliness we hold of everyone. We are all aware of some basic rules such as showering after every class and washing your gear after each training session. Even when all precautions are taken, occasionally certain microbes are still able to infest our skin and create painfully frustrating infections. A skin infection arises in the location of a cut, scratch, abrasion, or burn (tattoos). These infections can be bacterial, viral, fungal, or infestations of parasitic organisms. The objective of this article is to describe some of the two most common infections that can occur from grappling and how to watch for them.
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Tinea corporis, aka ring worm, is a very common skin infection caused by fungi whose natural habitat is our skin. Under the right circumstances, this fungus can infiltrate our skin and cause an itchy, dry patch of skin. This infection usually appears like a ring with a clear patch in the middle. This infection is quite contagious so if you recognize that you have it, absolutely do not go to train. Fortunately, treatment of ring worm is very accessible and cheap: over-the-counter creams such as Lotrimin that contain clotrimazole, which is a potent anti-fungal medication. It is necessary to use an antifungal cream to treat the infection itself as opposed to using a hydrocortisone cream to treat the symptoms.
The next important skin infection that seems to occur in Jiu Jitsu practitioners is the formidable staph infection. This infection is typically caused by Staphylococcus aureus and various drug-resistant variants of the bacteria such as MRSA and VRSA. This infection is especially hard for the non-professional to self-diagnose because it can present in various ways. The most probable manifestations for grapplers would be boils, lesions, and carbuncles. I recommend searching for images of these to see what they look like as they are hard to describe. They do share some common characteristics of redness, swelling, painfulness, raised skin, and dryness or patchiness. Most importantly, these infections manifest with a buildup of pus in the center appearing white or yellowish. It is extremely important to see a physician for these infections as they are very dangerous if untreated and can lead to amputations, shock, sepsis, and even death. Always monitor your skin for these symptoms and you think you may have an infection, skip Jiu Jitsu and go see a physician.
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There are various other infections that may occur amongst grapplers such as impetigo and cellulitis although I have not heard of any cases. It is vital to continuously monitor your skin for infestations as they may not present with sensory symptoms immediately. Many of these infections are moderately-severely contagious and can quickly spread in a Jiu Jitsu gym. Just to reiterate some rules we all know: always wash your gear after every training session as quickly as possible, shower after every session, and monitor your skin daily.
Jake Mackenzie is the most successful Canadian jiu jitsu athlete. He is well known for his use of half guard and reversed half guard. You can learn it directly from him with High Precision Half Guard available here at BJJ Fanatics!