Avoiding Skin Infections in BJJ

From experience skin infections in BJJ are rare and easily avoidable if you follow a few simple steps. It is important to know what to look out for if you train BJJ or any sport that involves close body contact are skin infections and how to prevent them.

There are a couple of common infections that every BJJ practitioner should be aware of and be on the look out for, particularly as we approach the warmer summer temperatures


Impetigo is a bacterial infection that can be found nearly anywhere on the body, and is caused by one of two types of bacteria: Streptococcus (strep) or staphylococcus (staph).

Impetigo is usually caused by one of these types of bacteria entering the body through a cut or animal/insect bite, or any other type of open sore. However, a break in the skin is not always needed to contract an infection.

Impetigo typically begins as small clusters of red bumps that break open into a yellowish scab. This infection may be spread by skin-to-skin contact, or by using facilities and equipment (BJJ mats especially) where the bacterium is present.

Impetigo is highly contagious and, if left untreated, could cause other very serious health problems.

When Impetigo appears on the skin, it typically starts as localized clusters of delicate, yellowish bumps that may increase in size and number. These clusters often cause no pain, but can be very itchy and irritating. When the blisters are popped, reddish sores are left on the skin, which will eventually crust over due to the fluid.

Impetigo may cause flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, fatigue, and also swollen glands.

Impetigo can be simply identified by any doctor through an examination of the skin. Occasionally a samples of the skin maybe needed for diagnosis.

Most cases of impetigo can be treated with some topical, non-prescription antibacterial medications.

For more serious cases, doctors will usually prescribe a combination of topical and oral antibiotics. Typically after one or two days of treatment, the infection becomes non-contagious, with the sores disappearing in about a week of starting treatment.

Washing with soap and water before medicating may help increase the effectiveness of the medication.


Ringworm (Tinea corporis) is a type of fungal infection that can be contracted almost anywhere on the body. When contracted on the feet, this infection is known as “athlete’s foot.” On the groin area, it’s called “jock itch.”

The name is misleading, because there is no actual “worm” involved. One of the most common types of skin infections, ringworm appears on the skin as a raised circle or ring. It is typically red or brown around the edges with scaly, peeling skin throughout.

Ringworm thrives in warm, moist areas and can be contracted from many sources, including clothing, showers, mats, and of course, skin-to-skin contact with infected individuals. Ringworm can also be found on some animals.

Ringworm has a very distinctive appearance, and typically appears in the form of a ring-shaped, itchy rash that is slightly raised above the skin that surrounds it.

Every case is different, and sometimes it will not appear in this shape and may not be irritating. Sometimes, reddish or brownish bumps appear in addition to scaly, peeling skin.

It is also common to contract ringworm in difficult places to view, such as the scalp or underneath the fingernails.

Most cases of ringworm are extremely minor and can be treated with over-the-counter, medications that are commonly used for fungal infections.

Make sure to follow the directions of any medication exactly. It may take several days to several weeks for the infection to be healed, depending on severity.

Often times, your doctor will be able to identify ringworm with a quick examination of your skin. If your infection is strong, oral antifungal medications may be prescribed in addition to prescription topical medications.

After a few days of treatment, ringworm becomes non-contagious, although it is still apparent on the skin. It may take up to several weeks for ringworm to completely disappear.


Staph (Staphylococcus aureus) is a group of bacteria that can cause several different infections, including impetigo. This bacterium is commonly found in the bodies of a small percentage of individuals without harm.

Staph usually enters the body through open wounds and hair follicles, but can sometimes cause infection without a break in the skin.

In severe cases, the infection may find its way into the bloodstream, causing other infections and health complications within the body.

Staph is almost always transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. However, unclean facilities and equipment are also known causes for an infection.

Staph can show up in several different forms, but mainly starts as a small sore or boil. Typically, staph invades hair follicles and open wounds, but there have been cases reported where no open cut or wound was present.

The back of the neck, underarms, groin, and the beard area in men are the most common areas where staph can be found.

Tenderness, swelling, and redness around the infected area are common symptoms. Pus and drainage are also common. It can often spread quickly, and with this comes flu-like symptoms such as fever, sweats, and chills.

If left untreated, staph may cause pneumonia, and blood or bone infections.

Depending on your symptoms, your physician may need samples of blood, urine, or skin for a diagnosis.

Antibiotics are used to treat a staph infection. Depending on how early it is caught and how severe the case is, the type and strength of the drug(s) may vary. Typically, a combination of topical and oral antibiotics may be used. Abscesses may also need to be drained by a physician.

Staph can become life-threatening. In recent years, the overuse of some types of antibiotics has been the cause of mutated forms of the staph bacteria.

Known as MRSA (Methicillian-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus), this type of infection is resistant to some forms of antibiotics.

MRSA has been present in hospitals and health facilities for a number of years, but since has become a type of infection that is spread among the general community.

MRSA is more difficult to treat than a typical staph infection, because there are fewer effective forms of antibiotics. Serious cases of MRSA are treated with intravenous antibiotics.

Steps for Preventing Infection

We go to great lengths to keep the Academy clean, but we need your help to make sure it stays that way. Please follow these simple rules to avoid any infections or passing them on to your training partners. There is no excuse for uncleanliness.

– Get in the shower first thing after training/arriving home. Don’t pet the dog, don’t sit down on the couch or lay in bed, get in the shower!

– Wash your uniforms after EVERY training session. Including your belt, rash guards, etc. Having a second uniform helps with this

– Clean and cover any exposed cuts or scrapes

– Use a wet bag for your post-workout training equipment. Don’t put your dirty gi’s in your clean gear bag.

– Use soaps with anti-fungal ingredients like tea tree oil. Defense Soap is a great option.

– Don’t train with the guy who “just has a spider bite” somewhere. That’s not a spider bite!! Well, it could be, but better safe than sorry.

– Don’t share a towel with anyone! Quit being cheap man. Buy your own towel!

– If you shower in a community facility (health club, academy, etc) wear shower shoes.

– Make sure your academy is kept clean. If something about the (lack of) cleanliness bothers you, speak up and volunteer to clean it yourself.

– If you notice anything unusual on your body… get it checked out! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure.

– Once your infection has cleared up make sure you thoroughly wash all your bed clothes and towels to avoid re-infection.

For more information on BJJ training in Plymouth call 01752 262233 or visit http://www.martialartsplymouth.co.uk/

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