Treating And Preventing Mat Burn in Martial Arts Training
Friction burns occur when you scrape a part of your body against certain surfaces and the friction causes a burn. All it may take is to simply brush your skin on a martial arts mat and you can develop rashes, blisters, and burns on your skin. Some types of mat burn can even mimic the effects of a first-degree burn, as the friction causes many layers of skin to be affected. Ultimately, if left untreated, friction burns can lead to serious infections, which can have a major effect on the health of an athlete.
Friction burns can be pretty common in martial arts disciplines that focus on grappling and ground game, and this includes Brazilian jiu jitsu. Since it’s a highly competitive martial arts discipline, athletes who train in BJJ have a higher tendency to suffer from mat burn. Burns are especially common after a heavy-duty sparring session or competition, and it can make doing simple tasks like putting on a pair of shoes or stepping into the shower painful.
In this article, we are going to address:
- What is mat burn?
- What causes it?
- Ways to prevent friction burns.
- How to treat mat burn.
- The best mats to purchase to prevent mat burn.
What is mat burn?
Ever had the misfortune to touch sandpaper on your orbital sander while it was running? Then you probably know what it’s like to lose the first couple layers of your skin in one quick motion. When you rub your skin across high traction flooring, like foam mats, you can remove the first layer of skin, causing a painful burn which can blister.
Friction burns are pretty common in martial arts, especially when you’re performing complex movements like spins, twists, and rolls whilst on the ground. When you’re in a situation where you are trying to gain the advantage, you can’t help but putting your body on the line.
Friction burns can occur on any part of your body where skin comes in contact with athletic flooring. Some the most painful types of friction burns can be on your face, knees, and the soles of your feet.
Some people may say to you, “Just suck it up, and deal with it!” Let’s be honest, this isn’t the most helpful form of advice for any injury, even a minor injury like mat burn.
We’re going to avoid this advice as we continue on in this article, as there are more helpful ways to deal with this injury. It’s important to gain a better understanding of ways to fully treat your injuries rather than sweeping it under the rug.
Common surfaces that cause mat burn
Let’s be honest, when you’re in a combat sport or a high-impact sport, you’re going to get skin injuries from time to time, including mat burn, cauliflower ears, and blood blisters. Anytime where you’re pinned on the ground with the entire weight of another athlete on you, you’re likely to have some sort of skin injury as a result, even if it’s just skin irritation. What becomes the issue is when your skin rubs on the ground as you try to move out from underneath of them.
Some skin injuries can become permanent conditions that young athletes go through. For example, the brim of my left ear is permanently swollen in a cauliflower ear because of years of rugby. It’s best to teach young athletes what causes mat burn and friction burns in order to avoid those permanent, long-term injuries that could occur from it.
Below, you can find the common causes of friction burns in martial arts and other contact sports:
- Martial arts mats
- Strike pads
- Punching bags
- Sports training surfaces, like tennis courts, rugby and football pitches, and basketball courts
- Weight training machines
Ways to prevent mat burn
There are many ways to prevent friction burns, and, in fact, the process of prevention may actually involve several options to help to minimize injuries. Below, you can find a list of major ways to prevent mat burn:
Clean your training surface
One of the first things you can do to prevent mat burn is to make sure that surfaces are properly wiped down in between each session. You may not realize how many bacteria are on the mats in your training centre. And every time an athlete comes into contact with soiled martial arts mats, there’s a chance that they could get a serious skin infection because of it.
In fact, dirty mats can actually lead to more friction. Diligence is key to preventing injuries, and it doesn’t come easier than making sure to stay on top of regular maintenance and cleaning.
Wear a gi, rash guards, and knee pads.
One of the best things that you can do is to invest in a good jiu jitsu gi, as this can put a layer of fabric between your skin and the training surface. When looking for a gi, purchase one with reinforced seams, as these can stand up against the intense rigours of training and competitions.
In addition, rash guards are great to use in sparring and training sessions, as they offer an extra layer of protection for your skin. If you’re dealing with major skin irritation and mat burn on the joints of your elbows and knees, you might even consider purchasing kneepads or elbow pads.
Stop what you’re doing if you notice skin irritation
Also, it’s important to note that if you notice that your skin is getting red, or there’s any form of skin irritation on your body, stop what you’re doing immediately and reconsider other ways to train differently. Obviously you can’t do this in a competition or in a heavy training session. However, any attempt to limit skin irritation will go a long way.
Tape your hands and feet, or wear training socks
A little tape can go a long way in preventing mat burn. For example, if you’re dealing with mat burn on areas of your body which you can’t cover with a rash guard or gi, put a little tape on it. On a rugby pitch, it’s not uncommon to see guys sporting tape on their head to prevent cauliflower ears, and that may actually be the solution for you if you want to continue training but also want to prevent the friction burn on your face or ears from getting worse.
You can also purchase training socks which have a bit of a grip on them if you have mat burn on the bottom of your feet. The bottom of your feet is a very sensitive part of your body, and it can be very painful when you have a burn or skin injury on the bottom of your feet. Save your toes and the bottom of your feet from pain by taping them up.
Apply liquid bandage to any affected areas
Liquid bandage is a polymer that acts like a glue that adheres to your skin, and it’s also mixed with a common antiseptic and anaesthetic. One of the great things about liquid bandage is that it dries relatively quickly, and it adheres directly to your skin.
It acts as a ‘second skin’ and adds an extra level of protection. It also provides a bit of protection against bacteria. Liquid bandage should only really be used on minor burns, so if you have a large burn on your skin, speak with a doctor.
Ways to treat mat burns
Mat burns cause wounds which can cause serious pain and lead to infection. It’s important to treat them appropriately, using an antibacterial wipe, as well as covering up any burns. Check out some suggestions below to treat skin irritation and mat burns.
Clean and disinfect the areas
The best thing you can do for mat burn is to run cold water on your wound and wash it with a mild soap. The soap helps to disinfect the area, cleaning out any bacteria and infections which sit on top of the mats. In addition, cold water can help to ease the burning sensation in your wound. Be sure to remove any clothing or jewelry that is close to the affected area.
Apply anti-burn cream
A friction burn has similar properties to any other type of burn, and therefore, you may find anti-burn cream to be helpful in treating your injuries. It’s important to note that you should only apply burn cream as a first aid treatment in the comfort of your own home. Applying creams or ointments during a training session can actually increase your risk of infections. Although it may help with the initial pain, it’ll take a few days for the swelling to go away and the pain to subside.
If you notice a burn on your skin after a BJJ training session, avoid touching it with your fingers, as they might be contaminated with bacteria. Instead, use a sterile gauze to wrap up your wound. It’s always handy to keep gauze in your first-aid kit, so that athletes can wrap up any injuries that they have. Gauze is also important to use whilst you recover, as it can help to avoid bacteria, germs, and dirt from getting into the burn.
Best mats to prevent mat burn
Certain mats are not great to use for martial arts disciplines that involve quite a bit of grappling and ground game. Instead, it helps to purchase the proper mat for your sports. Check out the list of mats below to find a mat that will help prevent mat burn:
Judo mats feature a tatami surface texture which offers great grip without the heat and friction. This can prevent mat burn, especially when rolling and grappling. Made from high-impact absorption reconstituted PU foam, covered in durable surface texture, these mats are incredibly durable.
The low profile 5 lines pattern provides adequate traction, whilst also reducing friction when compared to other grip patterns. The surface texture features small squares of alternating 5 line patterns, and these low profile ridges minimise the surface area which could cause burns, it wont eliminate it though, its is the most cost effective solution before you spend on a tarp cover.
There is no one stop, easy fix to mat burn, but there are many things that you can do to reduce the risk associated with skin injuries. One way to do this is to prevent your bare skin from rubbing against mats or other surfaces. Also, be sure to treat any injuries that occur by running them under cold water and washing gently with soap. Last, after an athlete has been burned, be sure to make sure that they’ve wrapped their injury in sterile gauze, and if it’s especially bad, suggest having them visit a hospital. Just like any other injury, it may be best to take some time to rest away from MMA to heal from your injury.
Author: David Van Kooten