The Road to Recovery | A guide for grapplers recovering from an ACL tear

The Road to Recovery | A guide for grapplers recovering from an ACL tear

Some things are far worse than running out of coconut water and acai…

One of those things would be moving, which is exactly what I have been doing for the past month. Relocating can put a damper on writing and more importantly training. I wont lie, I was getting a bit bummed out about having to not be able to train as much as I would like. But last month when I was going through my final week at the gym in Brooklyn, I was on the mat as much as possible trying to get one last roll in with every one of my training partners. Towards the end of that week I saw one of the beasts in the gym show up finally. I was pumped because I had not had the chance to get that last roll in. Today would be that day. So I go up to my buddy Jake and start in on a little pre-training sarcastic taunting. Then I notice, he doesnt have a bag with him… He then sets up for the verbal submission that shuts down my entire game. He just came from the doctor and it turns out he has torn his ACL. Moving and missing a little training doesn’t sound bad at all anymore as we go into the whole process of what he has to undergo to get back into training. Injuries are never fun and never quick to recover from. Jake knows this because hell, the guy is in school to be a doctor.

Then it dawns on us that this is something that is common in the jiu jitsu world and would make for a great resource for all of those suffering from major injuries. It is not a battle of just healing but also how to mental, physically and nutritionally maintain throughout the process to get back on the mats in full force. I invited Jake to catalog his journey and bring it to you here on Grappler Gourmet. Not only does it keep me updated on my buddies recovery but also gives valuable insight from a professional. I will pass the torch over to Jake now for his first chapter because hey, I am not a doctor!

Hey all!

My name is Jake Schwartz and I’m a BJJ blue belt training out of the Park Slope Academy of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This blog began as the brainchild of Mackenzie Arrington (you know, the culinary genius behind Grappler’s Gourmet) and mine after discussing it at the gym. I recently sustained an ACL tear while training (I was not training in Park Slope when in happened  and I began scouring the internet for some guidance as to what to expect during my recovery. I was looking for testimony from fellow grapplers who have suffered similar injuries in order to gain insight into what to expect in terms of surgery, physical therapy, and when I could return to the mats. My internet search yielded pretty much zilch with the exception of this piece from Stephan Kesting’s Grapple Arts. 

This was great and all, but I felt it really lacked the more intimate details of the whole processes. I wanted to know what day-to-day life could be like for someone who hopes to return to the mats as soon as possible to start training to compete again. And so this blog was born. I hope to give all of you an idea of what I am going through so that if this happens to you, you know pretty much what to expect.

The best way to keep your knee intact is to avoid Palharas. - MacKenzie
The best way to keep your knee intact is to avoid Palharas. – MacKenzie

A little bit about myself;

Like I said I am currently a BJJ blue belt who has been training for two years, I am also in my second year of medical school in New York City. Hopefully these two experiences together can help me elucidate the whole process for you, as well as let you know there is someone out there who knows what you are going through. Now just a little disclaimer: all of our bodies are different, and how we react to the surgery and how we recover depends on each individual. I’m just here to give you a benchmark. You may hit some milestones before me or it may take you a bit longer. Along the way I’ll be throwing in some fitness and dieting tips that I use to stay in top shape, so let’s dive right in!

To those of you who have ended up here because you have an ACL tear, you have my sympathy and condolences. Not being able to train sucks (those who don’t know what it’s like to roll don’t get how much it can royally suck to not be out on the mat). To those of you who ended up here because they got lost on the internet, welcome! I hope you find my recovery process informative and interesting.

So what is an ACL tear?

The ACL (or anterior cruciate ligament) is the ligament that runs diagonally in your knee that connects your tibia (shin bone) to the femur (the thigh bone).  It serves two functions: 1) it prevents your tibia from sliding out in front of the femur and 2) it provides rotational stability to the leg.

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When it tears, some people describe feeling a painful pop [footnote Connor McGregor] in their knee. In my own experience, I felt like someone was ripping paper inside my knee. I immediately knew something was wrong, but I was drilling knee on belly within 10 seconds after feeling it,. However, my knee felt loose. That night my knee began swelling up, but again I had no pain. Over the next two weeks my knee was still swollen and it occasionally buckled under my weight but that was it. During that time, I avoided training. After about two weeks, the swelling was down so I hit the mats again, and I was back rolling full speed. Initially I had some difficulty with some movements: triangles really bothered my knee, and Grapplers lift was pretty difficult. But once I was warmed up, I really didn’t have a problem. The only time I felt any significant pain was during a nogi session when I got caught in a kneebar. All this time my knee continued to feel loose and still would occasionally buckle, so I finally decided to go see an orthopedist (side note: see an orthopedist over going to an emergent care, they are better qualified to diagnose joint issues based on the physical exam).

Also, listen to your body. When something doesn’t feel right there is no shame in getting it checked out. Preventative health care is the best type of health care, as you can often catch something before it gets serious. That brings me to where I am now. One physical exam and one MRI later I discovered that I have a complete tear of my ACL in the right knee and will be undergoing ACL reconstruction (more about that procedure in the next post). To hear about how I am prepping for the surgery in terms of diet and exercise come back in a bit to check out the next post. Until then, stay healthy and keep on rolling my friends.

Sorry for such a long post,


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