Let me make this ULTRA clear. I am not a doctor. Just as one does not receive a black-belt from watching youtube videos, one also does not get medical advice from a blog. If you have a health question or problem, go see a doctor.
If you’ve been training for any serious length of time, chances are you’ve contracted ringworm or someone you know has gotten it. Gross, abnormal, itchy red rash thing.
If you’ve got it, DON’T TRAIN. Get it 100% resolved before resuming. If you have a reasonable suspicion that someone else has it, don’t train with them either. In fact, you should probably offer that they excuse themselves from training. One careless person can get a whole team of fighters infected. I’m not giving you permission to be a dick, but your health is important. MMA is dangerous and gross enough without ringworm.
What is it, exactly?
For many its called jock itch(tinea cruris) or athletes foot (tinea pedis). If it is on your arms or legs, it can be called tinea corporis, but all of these are types of ringworm, which is general name for it.
Contrary to the name, it’s not a worm, but a fungus that lives on the top layer of your skin. It is not immediately life threatening. Ringworm is part of a group of fungi called dermatophytes, which basically means that the fungus eats, lives, and dies on your hair, nails and skin.
The fungus really only hangs out on the top layer of your skin and doesn’t invade deeper, living tissues unless you’ve got really weakened immune system. The good news is that it isn’t burrowing down into your flesh like a creepy alien from an X-files episode. The bad news is that because it’s a surface dweller, it is easily spread and the ugly is visible to everybody. And yes, ringworm can scar your skin for good.
If you’re not easily grossed out, Google images can give you some fairly good pics. A word of warning though, many photos will be the extreme and rare cases, which you probably will never have and may serve to freak you out into a scratching frenzy. As I mentioned earlier, if you ever have a concern, go see a doctor. They can do a skin test and tell you what is going on.
The major identifiers are inflammation, redness, itchiness, and the tell-tale ring shape. The outer edge will be raised – making it look like a crater on the moon. What is happening is that the fungus is spreading out, like a ripple from a drop of water. The outer realm is going strong, but your body is fighting and killing the oldest instances of the fungus – the interior –making that crater. If you happen to get it in your hair, you may go bald there. If you have it in the nails, it can make them colored, brittle, and weird.
For the most part, your first sign is a really persistent itch.
A word of caution though – in the early stages, ringworm and a staph infection can seem similar. The difference is that ringworm is an annoyance, and staph, depending on the strain (MRSA), can paralyze or kill you. Often, staph infections will start off like a spider-bite. Staph may (but not always) ooze a golden puss, get crusty, grow to be a huge pimple like swelling. They can be red, itch, and ache/throb. If you want to compare, check out MMA fighter Mayhem Miller’s staph infection on his neck. If there is any doubt, get thee to a medical professional.
In my limited experience, the difference was the puss and the pimple like shape (for the staph) vs the crater/ring formation (ringworm).
What is the cause of ringworm? Where did I get it?
You probably got it from the gym. Could be the dojo, public showers or the weight room. It could have come from the mats or a person you came in contact with. To narrow it down further, you probably didn’t get it while you were outdoors. My father once told me I was going to get it by running around barefoot in the grass. Thankfully, he was wrong, which brings the running total up to Dad:2,328, Son:5. Its also possible to get it from animals, but let me confine myself to the human to human stuff.
Its most likey that you got ringworm from skin to skin contact with someone who already has it. Since wrestling, MMA, and BJJ involve a good amount of this, ringworm comes with the territory. Don’t be surprised if you get it – it’s pretty common and non-life threatening.
Often, ringworm will take hold in a sweaty, warm place; webbing of your toes, armpits, groin. Other times it will find its on to you because you a weak spot on your skin – a cut, scar, burn, or zit. If you’ve had ringworm in a spot before, that area can have a weakened defense and get it again later.
If you got it, it doesn’t necessarily mean your a dirty, bad person or you train at an unclean gym (although this can be the case). Sometimes you just get it. There doesn’t need to be a “cause” – just the presence of the fungus.
I talked to three doctors, a nurse, a pharmacist, numerous bjj/wrestling coaches and players, an alternative medicine cultist and the internet. In general, there are two camps: the medical science and the natural alternative. Both can work, but if you want a more or less guaranteed fix, go with the medical science route.
A word about healing time: It varies from person to person, but 2-4 weeks is pretty standard. A moderately severe case can last 6-8 weeks. Severity is determined by the number and size of the patches; two or more silver dollar sized spots is bordering moderately severe. Nail and hair infections last normal than their skin counter parts.
Another word about clothing, bandaging, scratching, etc. You don’t want the ringworm spreading. Bandage the infected area. If you’ve got athletes foot, put your socks on before your underpants as not to drag up ringworm into your crotch. Don’t itch the spot and then touch other parts of your body. Wash your clothes. Wash your hands.
Traditional Medicine Options
Within this route, there are three choices. Anti-fungal topical Creams, powders/sprays, and pills. Many of these can be bought over-the-counter.
Name brands include, Tinactin, Micatin, Lotrimin-AF, Lamisil, or Monistat-Derm (not just for the ladies!). You can find some of these on the cheap by their active ingredients, Terbinafine or Clotrimazole. If its athletes foot, go ahead with the athletes foot stuff. Otherwise, I’d go with the more specific ringworm stuff. If I had to choose just one, I’d go with the Lamisil, because I’ve used it and it worked.
For the oral prescriptions, you’ll need to go see a doc. The meds may be something like Diflucan and Griseofulvin. From my understanding, the oral stuff is for more serious, widespread ringworm. If you are really curious, go check out common ringworm medications via WebMD.
Whatever you go with, make sure to see it to the end. Don’t quit early and have the fungus return.
Alternative Medicine Options
Maybe you’d like to go all natural with your remedies, or maybe you’re just poor. Maybe you’ve tried some of the regular OTC treatments and weren’t excited about the progress. You can always try one of the dozens of alternatives. I can’t say that they all work, every time; what I can say is that these ringworm treatments have worked for some people at least some of the time.
These treatments haven’t undergone the same kind of scientific rigor that the above mentioned cures have, but don’t discount them. I’ve done a few of them and personally seen the use of a dozen more , and they worked. To summarize: your mileage may vary.
Also, use common sense. If something seems to be unduly irritating your skin, or you are allergic to it, stop. If you think more/less of the treatment is necessary, adjust. Unlike the directions on prescriptions, I can only offer you sugguestions.
The basic strategy behind this old school remedy is fungus can’t live in a hostile, acidic environment. Normally, your skin is slightly acidic anyway, and this amplifies that. Use a cotton ball or clean rag to soak up your preferred acidic liquid, non-diluted, and hold it on the ringworm patch for 30 minutes. Some minor stinging may occur. Do this 2 times a day for a week or so.
Yes, I know it’s not really “natural” in the same sense that these other ringworm treatments are. But it is do-it-yourself, cheap and effective. I learned about it from a football coach, but have heard high school wrestlers use a similar approach. The method is this: Scrub the ringworm patch with a wet washcloth until the whole area gets pretty red (exfoliate). Take a cotton ball, clean white rag, or q-tip soaked in bleach and put it on the ringworm. Hold the bleach on the patch for a few minutes. How long is up to you, but you should hold it there until it “burns”. Since the ringworm lives just on the surface of the skin, it will get nuked by the bleach-bomb, if you hold it there long enough. I have heard reports of people taping a bleach-soaked cotton ball to the area and leaving it on all day, kind of like a band aid.
There is no definitive length of time for this treatment, but 2-3 applications a day for 3-4 days should probably do it. Follow your instincts.
Yes, this approach hurts. But what are you, a wimp? (Says the football coach) The burning isn’t such a terrible thing, because there is a sense that the pain is a good thing, a proof that you’re burning out the fungus. Be warned, the bleach actually does burn your skin, and can scar you. If you burn too much, you’ve opened up a wound that can later get re-infected by the fungus.
Ginger Poultice/Garlic Paste
Both of these food items double as a natural anti-fungal. Ever notice how the out last other foods in the fridge from getting the moldy fridge fuzz?
Basic procedure: before you go to bed, grind up the clove/root and put a small spoonful on the affected area. Hold in place with a band-aid or tape of some kind. Keep the poultice on all night, use the poultices for about a week.
Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)/ Iodine
Use in a similar fashion to the aforementioned bleach remedy. The only suggestion I have is that the Betadine solution (pictured above) is a good choice from among the varieties of iodines.
Green Walnut hull juice, from your local walnut tree.
UV lights, from a tanning bed or the sun. UV will often kill or deter fungal growth.
Aromatherapies: Lavander, Thyme, Myrrh, Tea Tree, Ginger.
Grapefruit, and grapefruit seed extract. The fruit has anti-microbial mojo; can be eaten or put on topically.
Prevention, the best of all cures
Best of all, is to never get ring worm.
A few things will help you immediately. Wear a long-sleeve rashguard, and gi pants even if you are doing no gi.
Shower at the gym, if they have the facilities. Waiting too long can allow ringworm to take hold. It could be completely made up, but I’ve heard that you’ve got 30 minutes before fungus gets rooted in the skin.
On a granular level, there are two camps of how you should shower. One is the super-scrub camp, the other is the let-the-water-do-the-work camp. Depending on how old you are, and how vital your skin is, the super-scrub routine can make you worse off than before by habitually breaking down your skin, making it prone to attack. I talked to my personal doctor about this one, he says that you should use soap on the groin and underarms, but nowhere else, especially if you have to shower more than once a day. Also, if you must shower more than once, make one of those cleanings a sponge clean, to minimize the wear and tear on your skin. You may be interested in looking up the limited or no soap philosophy, (“going animal”) online.
Although I’m not a huge fan, but some people swear by the use of Defense Soap to stave off the fungus.
In the shampoo department, Nizoral is the choice for your head.
Bandage up scars and wounds. Have a consistent shaving schedule. If you shave erratically, your skin doesn’t adapt well and can be weakened, prone to infection. Also, enough with the shaving your whole body thing. Forest Griffin sounds off about this in his book, Got Fight – leave the collar popping, fake tanning and shaved arms for the douche-bags at the local bar. If you actually need the competitive edge that a slippery, hairless body gives you, I forgive you. Chances are you don’t, so don’t be one of these guys below.
Eat well and sleep well. A healthy immune system helps keep this kind of stuff at bay. In this regard, here are some diet tips. Avoiding sugars, refined wheat products, junk food, nitrates (bacon). Do eat garlic (crushed, and as uncooked as possible), no-sugar added yogurt, kefir, kombucha, any priobiotics in general (acidophilus pills), brown rice, lentils, raw nuts (sunflower, pumpkin and walnut), and eggs (zinc rules!). Don’t drink alcohol.
Get those mats clean, and keep them that way. If nobody is doing it, volunteer to do it. Bug management in a nice way. It has to be done. Keep shoes off the mats. Separate the boxing part and the BJJ part – I’ve heard gyms doing this and pretty much eliminating ringworm problems immediately. After you clean the mats, let them dry before putting them away. Wet dark areas are happy spots for fungus and microbes.
Use a broad spectrum cleaner when washing the mats – a virocide, fungicide, disinfectant. I know KenClean and BioNet are decent stuff. If you have any question, find out what your local hospital uses to clean their floors with and use that.
Clean your GI for goodness sake! See my article on taking care of your training gear. Also, don’t share gear, razors, soap, etc.
You can use protective pre-workout spray, like KS Kennedy spray. The stuff is made specifically for wrestlers to help them NOT get the skin problems we’ve been talking about. Kinda pricey, but neat.
Wash your hands regularly and wash them right. Do the S-grip beneath the finger nails scrub like doctors do. Lather for 20-30 seconds. This isn’t rinsing, this should be washing.
One last note: Many gyms have those alcohol hand sanitizer pumps available. I think they do help keep fungus at bay, but I don’t think its a 100% thing, especially for staph, which can be resistant. From my knowledge, Hibiclens is a top notch, medical oriented hand cleanser. If the generic stuff isn’t solving the problem, consider upgrading.
Tags: illness, prevention, ringworm, staph, training