I'm starting to think getting smashed into the ground on a regular basis might not be too good for the body.
Anecdotally, Judo can be absolutely brutal on your body:
After years of dedication to judo it gave me a black belt (first dan) and unparalleled skills at taking anyone down.
It also gave me: 1) Osteoartheritis on all my fingers from GI gripping 2) Pinched nerve in my neck 3) Bad lower back from not wanting to fall on my back and lose by Ippon. 4) Destroyed cartilage in my knees because of some throwing techniques like uchimata
That sport is probably the most tough on the joints ever, and to be competing in it will add 60 years to your body. My brother retired from judo at 29. TWENTY NINE! He walks like yoda because of hip surgery. The nature of the sport is geared to demolish you like no other if you want to stay serious in Judo.
Going beyond mere anecdotes gives us better quality information.
A few key points from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9487650 where 8 Judo practitioners were followed for 16 years, and their fingers were examined:
- All of them had signs of osteoarthritis
- The participants reported the symptoms to be mild.
- Symptoms were worse for active players.
- The conclusion was that Judo is a risk factor for finger osteoarthritis.
http://judoinfo.com/research11.htm has a study on competition injuries for the young.
this study seems to suggest that the injury rates in young judoka are among the lowest compared to those reported for counterparts in other combative sports. However, sport-specific characteristics and the level of competition need to be taken into account as well before more definitive conclusions may be drawn.
A wise quote from an anime...
"A good fighter knows his mental and physical limitations. But a great fighter will figure a way around them."
You can mitigate risk. Here are some tips, I hope they help, and I hope you don't have to learn things the hard way:
- The correct strength exercises for your body will improve the stability of your joints, and improve your durability (ligaments strengthen with strength training).
- A good level of flexibility
- Training partners you can trust
- A sensible ego. Tap early. If your body is telling you something is wrong, give it time to heal or pay the price with an extended healing process or a join that never is the same.
- A healthy training environment with a good instructor.
- Good technique. Ukemi, the techniques of falling in a safe manner.
Be Sensible and Self Select,
Everybody is different. Some people are flexible, some people are born with the genes for good cardio. Everybody has different motivations. Judo is a choice. Does it make sense for you?
When looking at the statistics for injuries, remember that some people will drop out of Judo because they should. If you discover your body is the type to be extremely likely to be badly injured from an activity like Judo, then it wouldn't make sense to do it.
Consequences of doing judo long-term:
- You probably get better at judo. So, greater ability to throw, choke, pin, and armlock people and to avoid same being done to oneself.
- Increase in physical capabilities, such as greater strength, agility, cardio, toughness, and so on. (Note: this is improved, not harmed, by being thrown to the ground repeatedly. Taking a submaximal beating makes you tougher.)
- Risk of possible injury.
- Risk of muscle imbalances, such as between left and right due to performing techniques on one side more than the other.
And hopefully, maybe, if you work at it, one might be able to cultivate some jita kyoei (自他共栄) and seiryoku zenyo (精力善用).
This is actually a very valid question. Consider that the NFL (U.S. football) is now going through a kind of falling out period whereby the athletes are becoming more and more aware of the growing risk of chronic brain injury over time. In the UFC, we're starting to see some questions regarding brain injury rates as well. And for a long time, we've known that boxing can really damage the brain.
In Judo, practitioners will constantly throw each other to the ground where they make a sudden slap and a thud. Whenever I entered judo training after a long hiatus, I would notice myself getting headaches. It only lasted the first day or two back, though. The sudden jostling around of the brain could cause injury over time, but I'm not sure that there is any data to support that hypothesis.
My gut feeling is that the forces on the brain during a judo breakfall are minor compared to that of getting punched in the head (something judo doesn't do). Judo breakfalls do slow the head motion while falling down so as to cushion the landing. It does so by using the neck muscles to gradually absorb the momentum of falling, so that the head doesn't just suddenly hit the ground.
But I have no idea what the forces are and whether they would affect brain physiology in the long-term.
In addition to breakfalls, there are chokes in Judo. Chokes work by applying a force against the arteries in the neck. This can be slow or sudden and sharp. The effect is to cut off the blood supply to the brain. It can also trigger a nervous system reflex to suddenly drop blood pressure, thereby instantly causing someone to pass out. Both will restrict blood flow to the brain. In addition, they can have an effect on the heart. And, in rare cases, they could dislodge arterial plaque into the bloodstream, causing a stroke.
Obviously, chokes could have some effect on long-term health.
Then there are back injuries, neck injuries, shoulder injuries, knee problems, hip problems, sprains and strains, and so on.
One interesting thing to point out is that there is very active self-policing going on in judo itself. The International Judo Federation (IJF) has banned many popular judo throws due to safety concerns. They get together once a year to look over injury rates during competition for all of the throws, and when they notice a particular throw causing more serious injuries than other ones, they might ban it.
For example, the two handed leg sweep (morote-gari) was banned, because it often lands people on the back of the head and neck and can cause neck break and concussion. Up until 2010, morote-gari was a very popular technique, because there are many situations where it can be used.
EDIT: Dave Liepmann pointed out that morote-gari is not a good example of this. It was not actually banned for safety reasons. However, Kani Basami was banned due to the higher risk of knee injuries.
You can actually see a video showing the entire list of IJF banned throws (from 2010) here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhOmAyjTimc
So, bottom line is that Judo as a whole is very concerned about injuries. When I trained in Judo, our school didn't have a "macho" attitude about things (and I've never seen a macho attitude at any judo school I've visited). Safety was always the top concern.
Anyway, I post this to clarify the main question, rather than answering it directly. I don't know of any long-term health studies. Those are what you really want. If anyone has them, post them.
I think you can answer two-way to your questions.
1st, long term risk to your body depends on how you train. If you have bad habits, and you apply useless strain on your body, it WILL catch up to you (at 40 some morning I feel like I have the knees and the back of a 60's). But it's also part my fault. My mom (who was also my 1st coach) always told me to take care and not land on my knees after finishing some throws... but well I was young and enthusiasm led to excess.
2nd would be injuries. Those will happens in any sports where you train extensively and can't be prevented, accidents do happen. Those are more specifics to each person.
As for judo specifics injuries, I'd say back problem, most major articulation (ankle, knees, elbows) problem and fingers (huge strain is placed on fingers, and people often forget to exercise them correctly) are the most common. I've never seen/heard a judoka with chronic headache or concussion related problem yet.
After years of getting choked, thrown, taken down to the ground, arm barred, knee barred I can say it does take a toll on your body. I'm 53 and can still hold my own against guys half my age but I can say that I do feel it. Knees, elbows, fingers however if I don't train I feel worse. You can't fix time. It's just part of getting older. Accept it.
I will just quote Kano:
Generally speaking, if we look at sports we find that their strong point is that because they are competitive they are interesting, and young people are likely to be attracted to them. No matter how valuable the method of physical education, if it is not put into practice, it will serve no purpose — therein lies the advantage of sports. But, in this regard there are matters to which we must also give a great deal of consideration. First, so-called sports were not created for the purpose of physical education; one competes for another purpose, namely, to win. Accordingly, the muscles are not necessarily developed in a balanced way, and in some cases the body is pushed too far or even injured. For that reason, while there is no doubt that sports are a good thing, serious consideration must be given to the selection of the sport and the training method. Sports must not be undertaken carelessly, over-zealously, or without restraint. However, it is safe to say that competitive sports are a form of physical education that should be promoted with this advice in mind. The reason I have worked to popularize sports for more than twenty years and that I have strived to bring the Olympic Games to Japan is entirely because I recognize these merits. However, in times like these, when many people are enthusiastic about sports, I would like to remind them of the adverse effects of sports as well. I also urge them to keep in mind the goals of physical education—to develop a sound body that is useful to you in your daily life — and be sure to consider whether or not the method of training is in keeping with the concept of seiryoku zenyo
From Kanō Jigorō quotes
Doing Judo for about 40 years competed at good level for 25 years. I don't have any problems. I am now 59 and still training in Judo, Karate and Yoga,(not at a high level anymore lol). I am getting the normal pains here and there, not a lot to worry about, but that's an age thing I guess. I think a lot of luck comes in to play. I know some younger people who do suffer with the training involved in Judo, but training regular in any martial art or sport will have wear and tear in the long term.