Ringworm in BJJ: Facts, Causes, Prevention, & Treatment
So, you’ve been training BJJ for a few months or longer.
Despite the usual abrasions, aches and pains, things are going well.
One day you wake up and notice itchy, red bumps on your arm or leg.
Congratulations! You just had your first bout of ringworm from training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu!
This annoying and uncomfortable condition is common across BJJ academies, boxing gyms, and fitness centers alike – particularly if their cleaning standards are subpar.
The fungus that causes ringworm thrives in damp, moist, and dark environments such as dirty BJJ gis and rash guards, boxing gloves, and in your socks and shoes.
The good news is ringworm is very treatable and fairly preventable with basic hygiene measures.
This article breaks down everything you need to know about ringworm in BJJ including what ringworm is, how to prevent it, and how to treat ringworm if you end up catching it.
What is Ringworm?
Despite the name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms.
Rather, it is a fungal infection of the skin caused by a variety of different fungi which primarily fall into the trichophyton, microsporum, or epidermophyton categories.
The infection itself is properly known as dermatophytosis and typically presents as red dots organized into a ring shaped circular rash on the body.
Ringworm fungi can also infect the cracks between your toes and your feet in general, which is commonly referred to as athlete’s foot.
Athlete’s foot is ringworm.
The fungi can also infect the groin area, known as jock itch.
Additional potential infection sites are the scalp, face, fingernails, toenails, and essentially anywhere on your body.
Ringworm in general is highly contagious through either direct contact with the infected area of someone’s skin or by contacting surfaces or objects that have been contaminated.
The infection typically presents 4 to 14 days after exposure as the previously mentioned ring shaped rash.
Note that athlete’s foot and jock itch are typically just red, sometimes cracked irritations that itch and burn.
Although ringworm is uncomfortable and gross, it’s very treatable and for the vast majority of people is not seriously threatening.
The biggest issue is continued spread and increased discomfort if you fail to treat it properly.
Causes of Ringworm in BJJ
As mentioned, ringworm is caused by a variety of different fungi that lurk on unclean surfaces previously exposed to the fungus.
You will typically contract ringworm by handling and using contaminated equipment that has not been sanitized – particularly if you do not quickly bathe or shower after exposure.
In BJJ, contamination primarily occurs when training with someone who has an active ringworm infection. Either through direct contact with the infected skin or transferred through sweaty attire.
For infection to occur, the ringworm fungi must be present. Just because something is sweaty does not guarantee it has ringworm.
On the flipside, a dry surface is not guaranteed to be ringworm free.
Preventing Ringworm in BJJ
Now you have a good understanding of ringworm and you’re probably convinced it’s something to avoid.
Absolute prevention of ringworm is simple – avoid contact with infected skin or surfaces.
This largely boils down to good hygiene at your gym and trusting your partners not to train with an active ringworm infection.
Unfortunately, neither of these scenarios are guaranteed.
Many gyms have less than ideal hygiene practices.
Furthermore, it’s common for athletes prepping for BJJ competitions to train despite having ringworm.
Additionally, many people simply fail to realize they are actively infected with ringworm and unknowingly spread it around the gym.
Finally, even if your gym has good hygiene, consistently mops after every class, and encourages people to stay home with ringworm, all it takes is one person walking across the mats with athlete’s foot to potentially spread it to the entire class and… you get the point.
With that in mind, your own personal hygiene becomes paramount. Taking a hot soapy shower as soon as possible after training is solid plan for mitigating as much ringworm risk as possible.
You can consider using specific antifungal soaps such as tea tree oil soaps or medicated soaps, but even standard hot water and soap is pretty effective.
If you cannot get to a shower soon after training, wiping your hands and feet down with an antifungal wipe is a good way to prevent many infections.
The biggest thing is to clean skin that had direct exposure to external surfaces potentially contaminated with ringworm as soon as possible.
You probably won’t get ringworm burning a hole through your arm 10 minutes after practice, but if you go hours without showering after training, do not be surprised when the good old itchy red ring shows up on your skin.
Another tip to avoid ringworm on your feet is proactively applying athlete’s foot powder to your feet and shoes. Athlete’s foot powder is a fungal treatment widely available over the counter.
Wearing long sleeve rash guards and spats when training BJJ can reduce the overall area of skin you have exposed to the mats, potentially reducing exposure to ringworm.
However, this should not be considered 100 percent reliable, and you should still follow all the aforementioned hygiene practices.
Despite your best efforts, you get the itchy bumps or cracks in your toes.
Although this will be uncomfortable, do not freak out!
There are plenty of cheap over the counter treatments for ringworm and athlete’s foot.
Depending on where your infection is located, different treatments may be recommended.
Typically, skin infections on open areas of skin or in the groin are best treated with antifungal cream.
Athlete’s foot can be treated with cream or foot powder. The foot powder has the added bonus of stopping itch and cutting down on moisture.
For infections of the scalp, antifungal shampoo may be recommended.
In the event of widespread infection or infections in weird areas that do not facilitate cream treatments such as the corner of the eyes, an oral antifungal pill may be required.
Most topical treatments contain one of the following antifungals:
Because ringworm is caused by a range of possible fungi, some formulas may work better than others.
If you find one of the treatments does not lead to improvement within a day or two, try a different compound.
Regardless of the formula, you should apply the treatment several times a day until the infection disappears and then continue for another week or two to prevent any remaining fungus from re-emerging. Once a given bout of ringworm is completely treated, you should be free and clear from that infection.
However, you can easily contract ringworm again.
Wash everything that touched your ringworm immediately. Change your bedding as well.
Finally, consider thinking about how you might have gotten it in the first place – such as dirty gym bag or clothes – and take preventative measures to avoid future infections.
And please, for the sake of all your BJJ training partners, stay off the mats until your ringworm infection clears up.
Ringworm in BJJ: the bottom line
Ringworm is simply a reality of participating in something like BJJ.
Records of ringworm date back to ancient history and it’s safe to say the fungus is not going anywhere.
Despite this, the existence of ringworm should not stop you from training assuming you are not actively infected.
Although it’s uncomfortable, ringworm is virtually never life threatening, nor are serious complications common.
Taking preventative measures such as showering after BJJ, washing dirty clothes, and avoiding infected training partners will go a long way towards preventing any ringworm.
Finally, if you do get the itchy red ring, head to your local pharmacy, and pick up one of the aforementioned antifungal treatments.
You should be fine to go back to training BJJ ringworm free in a few weeks or less!