Knee injuries are a recurring topic in MMA. They are one of the most common injury sites, and many fighters have been sidelined by a cartilage tear or ACL rupture. This blog will discuss some of the most common knee injuries. If you are experiencing knee problems yourself, we recommend that you see a qualified professional for a diagnosis and advice!
The knee is almost a hinge joint – but not quite. While it’s main movements are bending and straightening the knee, it also allows a little bit of rotation. This added movement is important for everyday activities such as walking, but it comes at a cost. The knee is a less stable joint, compared to the elbow, and unfortunately this can become all too evident when the knee is subjected to the stresses that occur in contact sports.
There are four major ligaments in the knee – one on each side of the joint (the medial and lateral collateral ligaments), and two that cross in the middle (the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments). These are most often injured by side to side and twisting forces, such as may occur during a (badly executed) takedown, or in a twisting leglock such as a heel hook.
The most common ligament injuries are to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). MCL injuries, unless severe, often heal well by themselves; ACL injuries are more likely require surgery to correct. Athletes in some sports are able to function well without an ACL – providing they are committed to a thorough rehabilitation program to improve the stability of the joint. This is less likely in a contact sport such as MMA, though.
Meniscus (cartilage) tears
The menisci of the knee are two almost semicircular pads of cartilage that sit inside the knee joint. They help to reduce friction between the joint surfaces and to spread the loads going through the knee due to weight or impact.
The menisci can be torn as the result of an injury. This may happen on its own, or it may be at the same time as a ligament injury. One common combination, known as the “unhappy triad” involves injury to part of the meniscus, as well as both the MCL and ACL ligaments (see above).
A small meniscus tear may improve with conservative (non-surgical) treatment such as exercise rehabilitation and manual therapy.
A more serious cartilage tear – particularly one that causes locking of the joint – is likely to need surgery. Depending on the size and location of the tear, the meniscus can either be repaired, or the damaged part can be removed.
Part 2 of this series will consider some other common causes of knee pain, and part 3 will look at a few basic things to consider in preventing and rehabilitating knee injuries.