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Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, and the Anatomy of the Human Knee

This article will discuss the functional anatomical components of the human knee and their relationship to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts. The anatomy of the human knee is pre determined however the benefit of this article to the MMA or Jiu Jitsu practitioner is to provide an improved comprehension and clarity of understanding concerning the functions of various structures and tissues of the human knee and to even help the athlete to look at the human knee from an engineering perspective. An improved understanding of biomechanics, kinesiology, compressive forces, shear forces and anatomy may be beneficial from a resource management perspective.

The knee joint is an amazing structure of the human body. It’s surprising that it holds up at all in the sports world in general, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, or even in every day life, being asked to perform in ways biomechanically that are a challenge to all it’s structures. Think about it. The knee is like 2 tooth picks stacked on top of one another end to end. What holds it together under the shear, torque, and rotational forces that it is exposed to?

Lets start with understanding and defining the major anatomical players of the human knee.

At the most basic level the human knee is a hinge joint made up of the articulation of the femur and the tibia. It’s important to note that the patella or knee cap articulates primarily with the femur, not the tibia.

With deeper inpection we see that the human knee has 3 functional units or subdivisions which are the femoropatellar articulation, the medial femorotibial articulation, and the lateral femorotibial articulation. These three functional units or subdivisions can be considered separate joints.

Next, let’s cover the ligaments of the human knee.

The anterior cruciate ligament / ACL and posterior cruciate ligament / PCL are the 2 cruciate ligaments of the human knee found in the intercondylar fossa of the femur and attach to the tibia below. They control anterior and posterior displacement or movement of the tibia on the femur. Note that they line up at oblique angles and from a biomechanical and engineering perspective this allows for flexion and extension of the knee. Without this oblique positioning there would be no flexion and extension of the knee. Amazing!

The lateral colateral ligament / LCL / same side as the fibula and the medial colateral ligament / MCL / same side as the tibia provide lateral and medial support to the knee as the names suggest.

Next we have the menisci, both the lateral meniscus and the medial meniscus of the knee. Again, from a biomechanical and engineering perspective, the knee meniscus provides expanded distribution of vertical and compressive forces over a larger surface area. In essence, the medial meniscus and lateral meniscus of the knee provide shock absorbing properties, act as spacers between the femur and tibia, and also contribute to the circulation of synovial fluid in the knee during flexion and extension.

Working from stand up is considered a closed kinetic chain position with both feet planted on the ground in a weight bearing position. This can be precarious as you can find yourself in unique positions where things happen fast.

Working from your own guard is a open kinetic chain position and is not weight bearing. It presents a different set of challenges being a non weight bearing position.

An extremely short list of common injuries to the knee include ACL tears, MCL tears, and meniscus damage.

Years ago a torn knee anterior cruciate ligament / ACL was a sports career ender. Not any more. One of the earlier cases in pro sports of knee anterior cruciate ligament / ACL reconstruction comebacks was Kurt Warner, a running back for the Seattle Seahawks. Although not Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Mixed Martial Arts, Kurt Warners case was the precursor to the knee injury comebacks that are much more common today. He had anterior cruciate ligament /ACL knee reconstruction in 1984 and came back to successfully rush for over 1000 yards in three of his next four seasons.

Today, the procedures are far more advanced and guys come back quicker with even better results.

Jerry Rice the great wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers made one of the fastest comebacks from knee anterior cruciate ligament / ACL surgery / reconstruction. He came back in 3.5 months. Unheard of at that time.  He was always known for pushing the outer limits of human performance and for a great work ethic. However, although he worked hard post surgery and came back fast, maybe too fast, he also experienced reinjury to the same knee very soon thereafter.

Well known cases of successful knee anterior cruciate ACL comebacks include Tom Brady and Wes Welker, both of the New England Patriots.

Well known Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitiors and Mixed Martial Artists who have come back or are in the process of coming back from knee injuries include Junior dos Santos, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and George St Pierre.

In closing, keep in mind that an intelligently managed strength and conditioning program will contribute to keeping your knees healthy and functional in the short and long term. This includes viewing your knees as well as your body as a whole, as a human resource that should be intelligently managed if you hope to get the most from it.

Joe Sale, CNS, CSCS

Call Optimum Performance / Human Performance Systems today at 480-241-2621 and mention this article by Joe Sale, CNS, CSCS, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, and the Anatomy of the Human Knee, and receive a free consultation with Joe.

About Joseph Sale

Joseph Sale, CNS, CSCS, is a board certified nutrition specialist and a nationally accredited strength and conditioning specialist. His educational credentials include a Bachelor of Science and a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. Joe has been an adjunct faculty instructor and guest lecturer at numerous colleges, universities, and corporations covering human anatomy, physiology, performance nutrition, corporate performance, and precursors to musculoskeletal sports injuries among other topics. He’s been a guest expert on radio and television and is the author of the Optimum Human Performance Course.

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