So I've always been interested in martial arts since I was young but since I was 4 years old I've had arthritis.

The key points to note are as follows:

  • My arthritis is under control, however I'd think intense physical activity could potentially cause me to flare up.

  • My arthritis has left my left elbow with severe disability. My left arm cannot fully straighten and can also not fully bend (if I try and touch my shoulder I'm a good 5 inches short)

  • Whether it's self defense or combat, I'd like to explore both options.

Given my above physical problems, what martial art would work for me? I'm open to anything.

I am a averaged size 5ft 7 man, 29 years old.

I'm also up for taking (or giving) physical punishment. That's not a concern...

Apologies if the question is a little vague, but I'm after recommendations like Judo, Karate etc, given my disability.

Thanks for your time.


7 Answers 7


Usual caveat: check in with your physician, physical therapist, etc. on what is or isn't ok for your condition.

When you are looking to develop self defense skills while suffering long term/permanent impairment, you will need to focus on training that is practical and effective and doesn't necessarily rely on you having full mobility or strength. Throughout history, weapons are the way people have gained a significant advantage in combat, and as such, weapon based self defense is probably a good way to go. (Second caveat: look up what is legal to carry and use in your area).

Many modern combative arts, like Krav Maga or Systema, or traditional weapon arts, like Kali, Escrima and so on, would be a good fit with this idea.

Your instructors will have to understand your limitations of movement, limitations of repetitions, and so on. They will need to look at what techniques or strategies will fit best for you. Although you may have greater range of movement while your condition is under control, currently, you can't plan on trouble only coming your way when you're at your best - so you should also train for what you might be like at your worst.

Arthritis, much like tendonitis, and other inflammatory conditions are often triggered through over-use, so you'll have to be careful about that.


In my club there actually are a few people with arthritis. It's usually in the wrists, which makes pushups and full contact boxing very fun for them. They work around these limitations by adjusting the exercise to suit them (eg. for pushups, doing them on the elbows instead)

In general, keep in mind what you train for. If you train for competitions with arthritis, you may not have the best goal in mind. If you train for health, exercise, and being able to defend yourself if necessary, then it's all good.

If your goal is general health and exercise, and being able to defend yourself, as usual the teacher matters more than the style. If your club allows you to work around your limitations, you'll be fine in any style. If your club forces you to eg. do pushups on your hands instead of elbows, it won't be for you, regardless of the style.


I thought people may find it interesting to see what I actually ended up doing, so here's an update:

My friend was interested in BJJ and so was I and we were going to join together, but he joined when I was on holiday but I decided to go a few weeks after. I spoke to the coach who didn't think my concerns were much of an issue (of course I am aware he may just want money, but I'd like to think there is more respect than that - but he did own the business) and made a point that everyone is there to help each other and if something hurts just tap - don't try be tough etc.

Anyway - to cut a long story short and I guess against the advice of some posts I have now been doing BJJ for about 5 months. Amazingly, compared to other sports (even swimming) I am finding less issues with BJJ than anything else I have tried. I can't really explain why, I do get thrown about (and now likewise do the throwing to a degree) and yes it can ache but hey, I'm still okay.

For someone who may be reading this it really is as my coach said to begin with - I had visions I'll get thrown to the floor and then arm-barred. In reality, you drill and it's far more relaxed, we focus on technique. When we partner up, with new partners, I make them clear from the off I can't fully kneel down or straighten my arm and they respect that and we practice. Sure if it was a competition it'd be different but I don't plan to enter competitions. I hope this gives someone else the confidence if they question themselves - also there are others in the class each with their own limitations, whether it's bandy knees, wrists or arms etc. You learn to adapt.


Why not look into Aikido? IMHO, it seems like a less 'intense' art. Personally, I've developed issues from training and after observing an Aikido class and talking with the instructors, the style and it's teaching can be altered to accommodate things like arthritis or any physical limitation really

  • The focus of the question is about arthritis within the context of martial arts. Could you focus your answer on that? In addition, hypothetical musing are irrelevant: we are looking for facts and experiences of training with arthritis. Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 6:48
  • @Sardathrion: Their second sentence seems to imply that they are sharing their experience with arthritis and aikido. :) Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 19:49
  • more so sharing my experience with training in my current style which led to knee and back issues, thus causing me to look into Aikido and see that it might be a viable option. OP mentioned intense physical activity could potentially cause a flare up. My observations of an Aikido class left an impression that it is less intense. He also stated he was looking for specific recommendations( Judo, karate etc) Which is why I suggested Aikido
    – Sgt_Allen
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 20:31
  • 1
    There is no how, just that something which might be suitable happened in an unknown style with an unknown teacher. More information is needed. Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 20:42

Ways I found dealing with arthritic pain in MA are:

  • Don't 'crack' your knuckles or other joints. As good as it feels, it contributes to your long term joint damage.
  • Keep the affected joints mobile. Moving to all of your joint's rages, and keeping them agile and warmed up helps the arthritic creep.
  • Gentle massage helps to get rid of the lumps and stiffness from your joints, gets you to understand its limits.
  • Constant slow pressure such or isometrics such as Yoga or Pilates (or even cables) also are useful in testing joint movement range limits and strength if you feel more comfortable.
  • Tai Chi and Chi kung can really work on improving this condition as they address the above criteria.

First and foremost: I would strongly encourage you to visit a doctor before you decide to take on any sports (and after picking a certain Martial Art). They know what is best for you.

Which Martial Art to choose is a typical question but as much as all Martial Arts share a lot of common features, they vary from Art to Art, from style to style and even from within the style because the most important part of your Martial Arts training is your Master/Teacher combined with his techniques and exercises (reference).

You should know that we are all biased and unfortunately no one can try all Martial Arts.

However a good start might be to look around your area for the Martial Arts classes that it offers. Visit the class, talk to the Master/Teacher. I am sure they are more than happy to discuss their interpretation of the Martial Arts philosophy.

Personally I come from a Kung Fu background (both Northen Shaolin Chan, Jing Wu (Chin-Woo), Wu-Dang, Taiji, San Shao (San Da), and Krav Maga). Thus I am more biased towards those.

Because of your disadvantages I highly recommend to not engage in any grappling/throwing/lock-joints (such as Judo, BJJ, Aikido etc). These sports focus on throwing the opponent on the ground and you cannot afford that. Also they focus on the strengthening of joints, which in your case it might make it worse (again, I am no doctor).

What I suggest is to try "Internal Martial Arts". They focus on coordinating your body with your conscious and unconscious mind.

Taiji is a good example. You have plenty of exercises that improve your reflexes, but unlike external Martial Arts, here you learn by doing very slow movements, which deepen your understanding.

Please keep in mind that the goal of Martial Arts is not to kick ass, but to have a deeper sense of being and understanding your body.

Also in Wu-Dang styles (such as Taiji) you learn animal stances and forms (how cool is that? :D )


Please, allow me to correct on sensei surveyCorps' interpretation of Aikido. YES, there are throwings on the ground, but the first thing you learn in Aikido is how to fall + there's the tatami protection. Second, throwings are done gently, as there's no "winner" or "loser" in this art: it is not competitive. Only thing that could be threatening is back problems (my condition) , OR, if you haven't overcome the joint pain. And, of course you should skip some of the drills involving joint's unusual rotation angles, which shouldn't be a problem, Aikido is one of the "kinder", so-to-say arts. But you should most of all, try and see for yourself.

I agree that Tai-chi might be an even better option, would like to try it, but unfortunately, no classes in my town

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