Nobody wants to get ringworm, but unfortunately ringworm is a common skin infection in Brazilian jiu jitsu. In this ringworm BJJ guide you read how to prevent ringworm in BJJ, how to recognize it and what to do if you do get it.
What is ringworm?
According to the Center for Disease Control, ringworm (also called tinea) is a fungal infection that makes circular patches of skin appear red, scaly, and itchy. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other areas of the body.
The fungus that causes ringworm grows best in warm, moist places. But the fungus can grow anywhere on the skin, including on the face.
Is ringworm common in BJJ?
According to the Mayo Clinic, ringworm is spread by skin-to-skin contact. So it’s fairly easy to get ringworm in BJJ because you are in close contact with other people’s skin.
So just like athletes in every martial art, BJJ athletes are at risk for ringworm. In fact, ringworm is one of the most common skin infections in BJJ athletes.
How do you know if you have ringworm?
One of the most common ways to get ringworm in BJJ is by rolling with someone who has it or who has been to a place where ringworm is likely to be present. It is fairly easy to recognize ringworm when you see it, but it can be difficult to identify if you have never seen it before.
Some symptoms that you may have ringworm include:
- Red, circular patches of skin that may be ring shaped
- Rough, scaly skin
- Itchy skin
- Skin that also burns or stings
- Skin lesions
The symptoms of ringworm are common to many other skin infections as well, so it is important to make an accurate diagnosis of ringworm before treating it as such.
For example, staph infections and herpes infections look fairly similar to ringworm infections, but those are caused by a bacterium and a virus respectively, rather than by a fungus, so they require completely different treatments.
How do you get a ringworm infection?
As mentioned earlier, ringworm is a fungal skin infection that is usually transferred by skin to skin contact with an infected person.
Here are some ways that you can get ringworm:
- Rolling with someone who has ringworm
- Sharing clothing, towels, and other personal items with someone who has ringworm
- Going to a place where many people have ringworm (gyms, wrestling and other team sports, etc.)
And you are more susceptible to getting a ringworm infection when your immune system is weakened, for example because you’re tired or you have recently been ill.
How does ringworm spread in BJJ?
Ringworm spreads easily to other parts of the body, so it is important to keep the infection under control. The fungus can spread by direct contact, or through contact with items or surfaces that have been infected.
It’s very easy to get a ringworm infection in a BJJ academy. People sweat a lot in the heat of the mats. You can get ringworm by touching an infected person or their clothing, then touching your own skin.
How to prevent ringworm in BJJ?
Take the following steps to prevent getting a ringworm infection from BJJ.
Shower directly after training
The simplest and most important skin care measure you can take to prevent getting ringworm in BJJ is to shower directly after training. Ideally you shower at your gym. If you cannot then you should shower directly when you get home. bacteria and fungi multiply very quickly so every minute counts in terms of getting them off your skin.
Use Defense soap (or similar antifungal soap)
Defense soap is a famous BJJ soap. It’s the most commonly used antifungal and antibacterial soap in BJJ. This soap uses a lot of essential oils, such as tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil, to repel and kill fungi and bacteria. If you use defense soap, you automatically also protect yourself from getting other skin infections, such as athlete’s foot, impetigo or a staph infection.
Wash your gi AND belt after every training session
Most BJJ gyms require you to wash your BJJ gi after training. This helps keep the mat and training area cleaned and prevents fungus from spreading. Don’t forget to also clean your belt – it comes into contact with your training partners and the mat, so you should clean it.
Wear a long sleeve rash guard and spats
If you roll no gi, it’s important that you wear a long sleeve rash guard and spats to protect your skin. If you only wear normal board shorts and a short sleeve rash guard, your arms and legs are exposed to bacteria and fungi from the mat and your training partners.
Wear flip flops around the mat area
Don’t step on the floor and then on the mat – you’re putting bacteria and fungal spores on the mat. And NEVER go to the toilet on your bare feet and then step on the mat again. That’s the best way to give everyone skin infections quickly.
Clean the mat area daily
Make sure that the mat area is cleaned daily, or ideally after every training session. Otherwise fungi and bacteria can grow overnight on the mat. Use soap and water to clean the mat.
Don’t roll with people who have ringworm
If you suspect one of your training partners has ringworm or even if you just think something looks funny on their skin: don’t roll with them. And ask them about it. This may sound harsh but there’s just no good reason to take such a risk with your own health and the health of your training partners.
Overall good hygiene
You’ll notice that all the steps I mentioned above are just examples of good hygiene. You should also do anything else that you can think of that promotes good hygiene. So generally, don’t do anything that seems gross, try to stay clean, and so forth.
How to treat ringworm in BJJ?
If you think you might have a ringworm infection, take the following steps.
Anti fungal cream
Apply an anti-fungal cream or lotion to the skin. You can get this on prescription from your doctor. Don’t use an antibiotic cream – those only work against bacteria, not against fungi.
Clean the mat area
If you or someone at your gym has ringworm, you should take extra care to clean the mat area thoroughly with soap and water. The ringworm fungus can survive for a while on surfaces so you need to clean the mat thoroughly to avoid infecting other people.
If you have ringworm, avoid training with other people until you are completely clear of the infection. Ringworm is very infectious, and you don’t want to create a minor epidemic of it in your BJJ gym.
Can you train BJJ when you have a ringworm infection?
No. Ringworm is a contagious skin infection and BJJ is a contact sport, so if you train BJJ with ringworm you’re very likely to infect other people. You should wait until the ringworm is fully cleared up before you can train again.
Can you cover up ringworm and then train BJJ?
No, please don’t. I know that it sucks to not be able to train even though you feel fit. But, covering up your ringworm infection with duct tape or something else is still not safe.
Realistically, when you have ringworm, you have fungal spores everywhere: on your hands, under your nails, in your hair, on your clothes, on your other stuff, and so forth.
There’s nothing to be done except wait for the infection to clear up fully. If you still want to keep working on your jiu jitsu during this resting period, you can watch BJJ instructionals.
How much time before you can train BJJ after ringworm?
How long you can’t train BJJ because of ringworm depends on the severity of the infection.
Your doctor will be able to advise you on how long you should take off training.
However generally it will take 10 to 14 days of applying the antifungal cream to fully clear up the infection.
And I would always advise to take a few extra days after this just to be sure. You don’t want to infect other people and have ringworm going around in your gym.
My experiences with BJJ ringworm
Fortunately I’ve never had ringworm myself.
However, my brother is actually going through a BJJ ringworm experience right now. He trains at a different gym Where I know that a couple of other people had ringworm recently too so it’s kind of going around there.
My brother has one isolated patch of ringworm on his elbow. He first thought it was staph, because I had staph about a month ago and we had met up.
He asked the doctor and the doctor thought it was a mosquito bite, so he got a cream again that…
There’s a lesson in that. Doctors are generally quite unaware of the skin infections that we get from BJJ. When I had staph, the doctor also said it was nothing and I had to go back a week later to have him confirm it was staph all along.
So, consult with your doctor, but take their advise with a grain of salt. Ringworm and staph are quite uncommon in the general adult population, so it’s maybe not something that’s on the forefront of their mind.
Back to my brother. A few days ago his infection had the typical ringworm circle around it, so he went back to the doctor and got fusidic acid, which kills fungi. The infection is now starting to clear up.