This article was written by Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood London Head Coach Dr Marc Barton

bjj skin infections jiu jitsu ringworm staph infection

Practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and all other forms of grappling for that matter comes with an associated risk of developing skin infections. Nearly everyone that grapples will, at some point, develop one of these annoying, and sometimes potentially dangerous infections.

The mats are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Grapplers spend long periods of time in close proximity to each other, in a hot, sweaty environment, which is essential for the growth of the numerous organisms that cause these infections. The ability to recognize and understand these infections, both in ourselves, and our training partners, is a vital part of preventing their spread.

In the first of this series of short articles, we will consider perhaps the commonest of all the skin infections encountered by grapplers, ringworm.

What is ringworm?

Ringworm, which is also referred to as dermatophytosis, is a fungal infection of the skin. It is NOT caused by worms, and despite its name, there are no worms involved. There are about 40 different types of fungi that can cause ringworm, but fortunately, these are for the most part all easily treatable.

Ringworm is commonly transmitted from person-to-person by skin contact with an affected area on a person that has the infection. It can also be caused by touching items which have been in contact with an infected person, for example, rashguards, gis, towels, mats, and even chairs or furniture.

Recognizing ringworm

Perhaps the most important aspect of preventing the spread of ringworm is recognizing its presence. An infection usually appears as an enlarging red ring somewhere on the body. The patches are typically red, scaly, and itchy, and can be raised. The patches are often more reddened around the outside edge, causing them to resemble a ‘ring’. Sometimes the patches can ooze or blister, and bald patches can appear if the infection is on the scalp.

Ringworm is often given different names depending upon which part of the body is affected. For example:

  • Feet – athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis
  • Groin – jock itch, or tinea cruris
  • Arms, legs, and trunk – tinea corporis
  • Facial hair – tinea barbae
  • Scalp – tinea capitis

A photo example of a typical ringworm infection is shown below:

bjj ringworm

Image sourced from Wikipedia – Courtesy of Dr. James Heilman CC BY-SA 3.0

Preventing ringworm

As a general rule, all grapplers should maintain good hygiene, come to training clean, keep cuts and abrasions covered, and avoid sharing towels and clothing. Keep your skin dry, and don’t walk barefoot off the mats, I highly recommend investing in a cheap pair of flip-flops that can be left at the side of the mat and used accordingly.

If you notice a suspicious area of skin on a training partner, politely point it out to them, as they may not be aware of the symptoms and signs. If you recognize that you have any features that could be consistent with ringworm, or any other skin infection, STAY OFF THE MATS!

Treating ringworm

Ringworm is easily treatable using a variety of different antifungal creams. If you are concerned in any way about the possibility of having a ringworm infection somewhere on your body you should promptly seek medical advice from a doctor or suitably qualified healthcare professional.

Some of the more commonly prescribed creams include canesten (clotrimazole), miconazole (monistat), and ketoconazole. All of these are effective. It can sometimes take several weeks to fully treat the infection, and you should ideally have a discussion with your doctor about when it will be safe to return to the mats.

Keep the affected area clean and dry, do not share your towels, and clean your bath or shower well after use. Even though it can be extremely itchy, try your very best not to scratch the affected area, as this can spread the fungus to other areas of your body.

N.B. The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not designed to take the place of medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner.

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Next: BJJ and Grappling Skin Infections Part 2: Staph and Impetigo