By Dr. Pamela Fernandes  |  13 November 2020   

Knee injuries got your attention! We don’t blame you for looking. They are fairly common among martial artists. MMA artist Derrick Lewis managed to fight with his bum knee for four years.

However, he suffered his knee injury in 2015, during his fight with Ryan Potts. He was in a kneebar that he got out of but heard his knee pop as he did so. His ACL had a partial tear, his meniscus and MCL had a complete tear. Here’s how you can prevent busting your knees while training martial artists.

Don’t Ignore Stretches

Bad Knees Hamstring Stretch | Fighting Arts Health Lab

It might be easy to just do the cursory stretch for five minutes before a session and get on with the fun part.

Aka actual fighting! That, in the long run, this will backfire. You need to stretch the muscles that support the knees with the legs aligned. 

A sudden stretch of these muscles during moves and kicks can cause them to rupture and weaken the joint. Spend fifteen to twenty minutes stretching and preparing them before jumping into action.

Balance The Quads and Hamstrings

Many martial artists tend to have strong quads and weak hamstrings. It's not their fault because all the moves in martial artists use the quadriceps. The key is to strengthen both these muscle groups in a balanced way. 

Any imbalance will force the other group to compensate or absorb the compressive forces. Many martial artists stances activate and strengthen the quads. As you work out, train the hamstrings to reduce the wear and tear on the cartilage so that these are balanced.

Stop Kicking The Air

It’s just one of the things you see among young kickboxers and other martial artists. They tend to warm up by kicking the air or punching an invisible enemy. Cringe!!! Because you can actually see the knee bend as these joints hyperextend. 

Normally, an opponent will stop hyperextension by blocking the move. This kicking air move stretches out the ligaments attached to the joint far more than necessary. It makes them too mobile and the patella can’t track properly. Over time the ligaments supporting the joint get lax and can injure easily.

Knees Over Ankles

No, we’re not talking about crossing your legs while sitting. In many martial arts, some stances push the knee past the toe. This puts extra stress on the knee joint. When you do a stance, make sure the knees are directly above the ankles. This will activate the quadriceps. Take notice and be mindful of where your knee is in relation to your toes.

Align the Joint

What? How do I do that? Practice in front of the mirror. Most dojos have one. Watch your rear knee when you do a move or stance. How is the rear knee positioned? Most folks over-cock the knee out of habit or lack of proper training. 

Bad Knees Hip Alignment | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Align the knee and leg in the direction of the toes. You pivot or perform the move and watch how your knee moves. A progressive action plan is necessary to align your joint. This means strengthening muscles and practicing good technique. Your instructor can identify bad joint alignment and help you with this.

Hips Don’t Lie

Most instructors in martial artists will often ask you to rotate your hips. “Move your hips” is very common advice. But how much? Over-rotating the hips is not good either. Overextension forces the power to come from the knees or spine. 

Remember the Tai chi classic advice, “The power should be rooted in the feet, generated from the legs, controlled by the waist, and manifested through the fingers.” For this to happen, you should know your own hips’ range of motion and stay within that range.

Don’t Train Through Pain

Don’t be a hero. Training through pain will worsen your injury. There are many ways to train through an injury. If you do not know how to do so, then you should read, “10 Tips on How to Train Through an Injury”, Pain is the body’s way of telling you to stop.

If you have an injury to the ligaments, meniscus, joint, bursa, or the muscles, it will need time for the inflammation. Don’t stay still either. That will make you stiff. Stay active but don’t put the injured joint under undue stress.

Switch Styles

Some martial arts are very harsh on the knees like judo and BJJ. If you already have bad knees, you may want to reconsider the style of martial art you practice. Taichi, kyudo, and boxing are good choices. With slight modifications, krav maga, karate, and kendo are also easier on the knees. Adapt the training to your knees and avoid some of the hard kicks and explosive knee movements.

I Can Boogie

That’s right. You can boogie with bad knees in martial arts. There’s no need to bust your knees over it, if you train right and prevent injury. What are your best tips for healthy knees? We’d like to know, please leave a comment below.

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About the author

Dr. Pamela Q. Fernandes is an author, doctor and medical writer. Born and raised in Kuwait, she graduated from Angeles University College of Medicine, Philippines in 2007. Soon after that, she started her career as a medical writer and physician. Pamela is an advocate of preventive health, rural medicine, women’s health and tele-medicine having been active in these roles for the majority of her decade long career in medicine. She an Aikido practitioner. You can find out more about her at https://www.pamelaqfernandes.com.

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