An Overview on MMA Knee Injuries

There are numerous styles of mixed martial arts (MMA), including judo, karate, kickboxing, nunchuka and savate, and all styles differ in techniques and intensity. One of the most popular MMA organizations is the Ultimate Fighting Championship® (UFC). Many fighters involved in the UFC and other MMA organizations experience injuries during practice and fighting events. While minor cuts and lacerations are to be expected during a fight, athletes are also prone to MMA knee injuries. The knees undergo a lot of stress in fighters, and an MMA ACL tear, patella dislocation and MMA meniscus tear are some of the most common injuries seen by Dr. Mark Getelman, orthopedic knee specialist serving Van Nuys, Thousand Oaks and Greater Los Angeles, California.

MMA Knee Injuries in Competitive Fighters

The knee joint is placed under a great amount of stress every time an MMA fighter enters the ring. The joint is often twisted or forced into abnormal positions during grappling or fighting maneuvers. One of the most submissive mixed martial arts moves, the heel hook, involves the knee joint and the rest of the lower body. It is quite common for an athlete to experience an MMA ACL tear, patella dislocation or MMA meniscus tear from a traumatic event while competing, or from overuse associated with countless hours of training leading up to the big fight.

MMA ACL Tear Overview

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most commonly injured ligaments in the knee, so it is no surprise it is a leading MMA knee injury. The ACL runs through the knee from the front of the shin bone (tibia) to the back of the thigh bone (femur) and prevents the tibia from pivoting or sliding out in front of the femur. An MMA ACL tear typically occurs when a fighter changes directions or stops suddenly. Both of these movements cause the knee joint to buckle and shift. An MMA ACL tear may also occur from a direct blow to the joint during a fight.

Some cases, particularly those with incomplete or partial tears of the ACL can be treated with non-surgical measures such as ice, heat, rest, bracing activity modification and a detailed physical therapy program. Most fighters who suffer an MMA related ACL tear will require a surgical repair, known as an ACL reconstruction. Dr. Getelman commonly recommends an arthroscopic reconstruction for athletes who desire to return to twisting and pivoting sports, such as mixed martial arts.

MMA Meniscus Tear Overview

The meniscus is a wedge-shaped piece of cartilage within the knee that acts like a “shock absorber” between the thigh bone and shin bone. A torn meniscus is among the most common MMA knee injuries. An MMA fighter may experience a meniscus tear when they go into a squat position and twist the knee, from an awkward landing from a kick or occasionally from a direct hit to the knee from an opponent. The precise location of an MMA meniscus tear is a critical component of the treatment process. A portion of the outer 1/3 of the meniscus, commonly called the red zone, has a rich blood supply and these injuries have the potential for healing. The remainder of the meniscus, called the white zone which is largely the inner 2/3, lacks a blood supply and often requires surgery. Non-surgical treatment typically requires the RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) method, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications. If the athlete does not respond, then surgery may be required, most often a minimally invasive, arthroscopic procedure called a meniscectomy or meniscal repair for those tears located in the red zone.

MMA Patella Dislocation Overview

The patella (kneecap) has the ability to dislocate from its normal position and cause a number of painful symptoms. The patella normally lies within the patellofemoral groove and is designed to only move vertically within the groove. A patella dislocation may occur from a direct blow to the knee during competition, or from pivoting the femur (thigh bone) internally on a planted foot while bending the knee.

When a patella dislocation occurs, an orthopedic specialist will begin treatment by relocating the kneecap into its proper position. Many fighters suffering from a  first time dislocation respond well to non-surgical measures such as rest, modified activities and a physical therapy program. In certain cases or for those recurrent injuries, a surgical procedure may be required to repair significant bone or ligament damage caused as a result of the dislocation.

Have you experienced an ACL tear, patella dislocation, or meniscus tear during MMA? Do you need advice on how to recover? Do you want more information on preventing MMA knee injuries? Leave a comment below!

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