Knee health and the BJJ player

Posted: April 26, 2014 in bjj, brazilian jiujitsu, training

If you have spent any time training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you will definitely be aware that knees are by far the body part most vulnerable to injury. From guard passing to guard recovery, sweeps, throws, scrambles and reversals. All the time the hips and knees constantly moving applying pressure from top position or from the bottom depending on the players styles. Players from the bottom trying to take the base away from the top player by pushing and pulling to shift their centre of gravity. The top player trying to control and pass by clearing the legs and arms of the bottom player.

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All these changes of direction puts a certain stress on the joints and most times an injury will occur during a transition when one player commits to a pass/sweep and the other attempts to resist it. If the technique is good and the weight distribution is correct there will be no problems, but if there is a slight change in foot position, weight distribution, body angle, a sudden awkward movement by either player or an incorrect application of a technique, an injury is possible.
Below is Conor McGregor smash passing half guard with a knee slide and you can see the potential of a knee twist if his foot gets clamped as he pushes through by leading with the hips. Of course Conor is a high level mma practitioner with a purple belt in BJJ so has drilled this pass a great many times.

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Most knee injuries sustained during rolling is due to flexibility or more the lack of flexibility in the hip capsule. So it is often found that knee injuries are more common among the lower level belts or with players that are not training regularly.

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Typical knee injury associated with BJJ?
Sprains and tears to the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments and tears and sprains to the medial and lateral collateral ligaments.
Twisting pressure will aggravate the cruciate ligaments where a force from the side of the leg will put pressure on the collateral ligaments. It is also common for a combination of ligaments to be affected.
There are levels of sprain from level 1 which is a sprain but no tears,level 2 is a sprain with some strand tears to level 3 which is a complete tear that would most likely need surgery. Recovery times vary but generally a level 2 sprain is about 6 weeks off the mat. Surgery on level 3 could be up to 6 months or more with rehab.

So you heard something pop in your knee?
Immediate pain is definitely a ligament,either tearing or stretching and dislocating across the meniscus. It may relocate itself immediately causing a second pop. Rest, ice, compress and elevate and have some anti inflammatories at hand.(this is my normal ritual after almost every training session)
If the area is bruising and swelling and unable to hold weight, then it is torn and may require surgery to repair. Follow the RICE protocol and seek medical assistance.
If the knee locks up without swelling or bruising it is most likely cartilage damage and as there is limited blood flow to the meniscus surgery may be required to repair.

So the steps necessary to help prevent an injury?
1. Train regularly. Drill techniques so they become muscle memory.
2. Warm up sufficiently using dynamic warm ups through full range of motion. Listen to your body and work on anything tight.
3. Work on mobility, particularly the hips, if you don’t use it you lose it.
Here’s a link to a good yoga based sequence from fellow martial artist and general movement guru Dave Hedges hip opening drill
4. Build up strength around the knee with resistance training and agility drills. Go with a combo of squats swings and agility ladder footwork. Throw in some plyometric work with some bag/box jumps and add in some multidirectional lunges and old fashioned skipping rope intervals to mix things up.
5. Roll smart, especially if you haven’t trained in a while. You might not be as flexible or as sharp as you were so you may not be able to hit some of your fancy go to moves. Stay relaxed while rolling, accept a position if you feel resisting it may cause or aggravate an injury. Rolling is supposed to be fun and a chance to hone technique, this is not the ADCC finals. Don’t try pull off a technique when rolling that you have not drilled live. You may put yourself or your training partner at risk.

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