Punches, kicks, pivots, throws, and jumps. Your students throw thousands of them over the course of training, and they’re all exciting and essential parts of a martial arts program.
But … how many times have your students been limited in class because of knee pain?
In some circumstances, have you ever had an athlete in your program miss months of training because of a serious injury such as an ACL tear?
To the “older” population here: how many of you have blamed years of practice for your current knee pain? How many of you find yourselves walking funny around the house in the morning? It’s easy to point to years of wear and tear as the cause. Make no mistake: knee injuries aren’t cool ‘battle wounds;’ they’re serious limitations on the kind of life you truly want to live.
Instead of trying to treat pain later on, I believe we should take a proactive approach to keeping our students healthy. We live in a very reactive society, where we try to put a patch over the symptoms instead of seeking out the problem at its source. I’m here to help show you that there is a better way, one that supports both performance and longevity!
Oftentimes, the underlying problem does not have quick solution. But I have faith in the martial arts community to have the discipline and sensibility to understand that true success takes time. We have a real responsibility to keep our students healthy, not only now, but for many years to come.
Some areas that may become damaged within the knee are the ligaments, menisci and the area beneath the kneecap. Frequently, the actual cause of knee pain is a secondary concern compared to related issues at the joints above and below the kneecap.
A strong knee has to have great quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles to support it. When designing any injury-prevention program for the knee, it is important to take a full-body approach. If you want to decrease knee problems at your school, I strongly suggest targeting the mobility and stability of the hip and ankle.
Hip Mobility: Whether you are kicking, punching, or working with someone in your guard while lying on your back, having the right amount of flexibility in your hips serves as a foundation to all movement. If going through a squatting motion causes your hips to feel ‘stuck,’ it indicates that there may be excessive force going through your knees. Multiply that by the number of times you make that movement in martial arts, and you have a recipe for knee pain.
Hip Strength: Once you’ve developed the right amount of flexibility, you should work on building an ample amount of strength to control your body throughout these movements. Building a base of strength serves as your foundation for your more powerful techniques.
Ankle Mobility: In my last article, I talked about the prevalence of ankle injuries and how important it is to restore mobility when it is lacking. Whenever you squat or jump, the ankles need to have enough range of motion to successfully keep stress off of your knees. Can you imagine a marathon runner with poor ankle mobility? Sooner or later something is going to hurt.
Ankle Strength: With the amount of bouncing and pivoting you and your students do while on the mat, a great amount of strength is clearly needed in this region. Unlike sports where you get to wear shoes, martial arts disciplines are often practiced barefoot. Without any external support, it’s imperative that we add specific ankle strengthening exercises into our programs.
As you can see, preventing knee injuries requires the ability to see outside the box. Stop chasing the pain and target the underlying areas for the future of your students. It will keep them healthy and performing amazing now, and healthy and living their best lives later!
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