Throughout the month of May (Stroke Awareness Month), I spent much time reflecting on the accident that caused my stroke. I specifically reflected on how I could become more effective with getting in front of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) community, where many coaches and students are not aware of the dangers of continual neck manipulation in the sport.
Jiu-Jitsu has been a major aspect of my journey and it is my belief that there are plenteous opportunities within this community to start a discussion about the dangers of a stroke occurring in young athletes, as a result of carotid artery dissections. Since I began my awareness campaign in 2018, an overwhelming number of Jiu-Jitsu practitioners have reached out to me with stories very similar to my own. Beyond that, people from all walks of life have shared their experiences as well.
It is important to note that carotid artery dissections are not just a risk within the sport of Jiu-Jitsu. Yoga practitioners, mechanical engineers, and other young healthy people have also reached out to me with their stories.
Fortunately, strokes can be prevented with proper education and communication within all of these communities. My campaign is specifically focused on awareness — and the ways what we can work together to drive awareness on and off the mats.
Can a Jiu-Jitsu choke hold really cause a stroke?
Since my Jiu-Jitsu accident in 2017, I have had exposure to a number of stories from other Jiu-Jitsu students who have had similar strokes caused by choke holds. Because of this, I have worked with coaches around the world. In episode 61 of the podcast “Jiu-Jitsu Radio” I sat down with Shawn and Alexis to discuss this topic. As brought up in the podcast, it’s possible for strokes to occur in people under the age of 40, but that age group makes up less than 2% of all strokes. Among the leading causes of strokes in that group are carotid artery dissections, which is what caused my incident.
The dangers of choke-holds have sparked debates within the sport. For those studying Jiu-Jitsu, practicing chokes is a common daily occurrence. Chokes are part of the training — they’re something you learn to defend against. Though debated whether choke-holds are always dangerous, it’s important to know that continued loss of oxygen is never safe. It causes the death of brain cells and may lead to memory loss, damage of the retina, concussion, seizures, stroke, permanent brain damage, coma, and even death.
As I discuss with Shawn and Alexis, the changes I’d like to see happen in the BJJ community are simple ones. Awareness within the community is key. Coaches can work to be aware of the risks and to pass that information on. It can be as simple as starting a conversation in the community about respecting training partners and their necks — just being wary of the dangers involved.
What Coaches and Practitioners Need to Know
What needs to change in the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that will help avoid these serious complications? Many coaches simply do not have the awareness they need to identify the warning signs of a stroke. More education could lead to prevention.
Stroke survivor Josh Vera lists the symptoms he experienced during his stroke as a sensation of dizziness, being unable to move and recover properly from the choke, slurring of speech, and a general sense of confusion. When it comes to carotid dissection related strokes, it’s best to watch for an unexplained headache, eye pain, neck pain, weakness or numbness occurring on one side of the body, confused or slurred speech, trouble swallowing, and a loss of sense of taste. Though there may seem to be a large array of symptoms, it’s easy to remember and pass on the five main warning signs to watch for: numbness and weakness (especially occurring on one side of the body), trouble speaking, vision problems, dizziness and loss of balance, and a headache.
In order to spread awareness, leaders, coaches, and practitioners within the community first need to be educated. It’s not entirely uncommon for someone to go out during training, but it’s important to know what signs to look for. Slight dizziness may occur upon coming-to, but when someone is unable to get up from the dizziness, it can be an entirely different situation. Though a training partner going unconscious can often be taken lightly by team members, it’s something that should be treated with more care.
Willingness to educate, to listen, and to seek treatment earlier rather than later are some key ways to avoid permanent damage down the road.
Thank you are sharing and listening. Check out other references and similar stories:
Part 6 of this series — https://medium.com/@bizjitsu/a-jiu-jitsu-choke-that-caused-a-stroke-82f8c8136d
Part 5 of this series — https://medium.com/@bizjitsu/a-stroke-from-carotid-artery-dissection-from-jiu-jitsu-32db9bcf1b47
Part 4 of this series — https://medium.com/@bizjitsu/bjj-after-stroke-aarons-story-da3dff7fe0b8
Part 3 of this series — https://medium.com/@bizjitsu/another-stroke-from-bjj-part-iii-another-story-b6916f2890d3
Part 1 of this series — https://medium.com/@bizjitsu/my-stroke-my-story-ff01f4924d68