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Tips for Knee Health from Dr. Jason Han (7-Time USA Taekwondo team member)

Updated: Jun 19

knee health tips
Black Belt Plus

Punches, kicks, pivots, throws and jumps. You and, if you teach, your students execute thousands of them over the course of normal training, and they’re all exciting and essential parts of any martial arts program.

BUT HOW MANY TIMES have you been limited in class because of knee pain? If you teach, how many times have you had a student miss months of training because of a serious injury like an ACL tear?

To the “older” population out there: How many of you have blamed years of martial arts 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 and think there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it.

Make no mistake: Knee injuries aren’t cool “battle wounds.” They’re serious limitations on the kind of life you and your students truly want to live. Instead of trying to treat pain later on, I believe we should take a proactive approach to keeping everyone healthy now. We live in a very reactive society, where we try to put a patch on the symp- toms instead of seeking out the problem at its source. I’m here to help show you that there’s a better way, one that supports both performance and longevity.

OFTEN, THE UNDERLYING problem doesn’t have a quick solution. But I have faith in the martial arts community to have the discipline and sensibility to understand that true success takes time. If you’re a teacher, you have a real responsibility to keep your students healthy — not only now but for many years to come.

Some areas that often become damaged within the knee are the ligaments, menisci and the region beneath the kneecap. Frequently, the actual cause of knee pain is a secondary concern compared to the issues at the joints above and below the kneecap.

Strong knees require strong quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles to support them. When designing any injury-prevention program for the knee, it’s important to take a full-body approach. If you want to decrease knee problems, I strongly suggest targeting the mobility and stability of the hips and ankles. Here are some knee health tips.

Hip Mobility: Whether you’re kick- ing, punching or working with some- one in your guard while lying on your back, having the right amount of flexibility in your hips serves as a foundation for all movement. If squatting 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 squat in the dojo, and you have a recipe for knee pain.

Hip Strength: Once you’ve developed sufficient flexibility, you should work on building an ample amount of strength to control your body through movements such as those. Building a base of strength serves as your foundation for the performance of more powerful techniques.

Ankle Mobility: Whenever you squat or jump, your ankles need to have enough range of motion to successfully keep stress off your knees. Can you imagine a marathon runner with poor ankle mobility? Sooner or later, something is going to hurt. Whether running or spar- ring, increasing mobility in the ankles is paramount.

Ankle Strength: With the amount of bouncing and pivoting you do on the mat, adequate strength is clearly needed in this region. Unlike sports in which you get to wear shoes, the martial arts are often practiced bare- foot. Without any external support, it’s imperative that you add specific ankle-strengthening exercise to your routine.

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 yourself and your students. It will keep you and them healthy and performing amazingly now — and healthy and living life to the fullest later.

Dr. Jason Han is a seven-time USA Taekwondo team member, a sports physical therapist, and a certified strength and conditioning coach. Based in Pasadena, California, he’s worked with numerous Olympic athletes and NFL players during his career.

This article originally appeared in a 2020 edition of Black Belt Magazine.

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