Muay Thai is a fantastic sport but there’s no question it puts a lot of stress on your knees. My friend has bad knees and wants to practise Muay Thai so I researched the internet trying to answer this question.
So can you do Muay Thai with bad knees?
If you have serious knee problems get your doctor’s opinion but there is no evidence to suggest Muay Thai is bad for your knees. Strengthening your knees via weights, stretching, and improving your knee alignment before you do Muay Thai will sharply reduce the risk of any knee injury.
It is common for a Thai professional fighter to have 100s of professional fights and they are not known to suffer knee problems. There are many factors to consider why this is and how you can deal with and prevent knee injuries in life as well as in Muay Thai.
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What Causes Knee Pain In Martial Arts & In Normal life
If your knees hurt during or after Muay Thai training then you are likely putting your knees into improper alignment which is unhealthy for your knees and can lead to injury over time.
The knee often hurts first as the knee joint is located in-between two joints that are very mobile, the hip (above) and the ankle (below). But first you must understand some basic human anatomy.
The knee is a hinge joint and is designed to flex and extend. It is most resistant to injury when it’s in straight alignment. Your kneecap pointing in the direction of your toes is your knees best position.
Your knee will get injured in Muay Thai if you don’t properly rotate your hip joints which will cause poor kicking technique, as your knee is doing excessive rotational movement which it does NOT like to do.
Over time practicing improper kicking technique will lead to wear and tear and result in knee pain. Be vigilant and look for this pain to know something is wrong so you can change your movement pattern to prevent further damage and allow your knees to heal.
Remember even if you don’t currently practice Muay Thai the knee anatomy still applies. So if you’re suffering knee pain then really think if your knee joint is properly aligned and not doing any excessive movement.
We must understand how our hip operates to understand knee pain, there are two ways the femur can rotate within the hip joint.
Your hip can open towards the outside (external hip rotation), and your hip can open towards the inside (internal hip rotation). Hip rotation is found throughout martial arts including Muay Thai to generate the most power, as your entire body is moving towards the opponent.
If you want to understand more, check out this article by the Full Potential Martial Arts Academy.
What causes many injuries with fighters is when they attempt to get more power or hit someone too far away and they throw kicks or punches while they are overextended and poorly balanced. This is how I injured my knee in Muay Thai by putting my knee into a very bad position.
Take a look at the photo of me above. Do I look like I can punch with force or that my knees are in the best position to absorb a punch/trip? Clearly not and this is why most knee injuries happen in all martial arts.
Overextending causing knee pain isn’t just to do with martial arts. If you do everything from running, squatting or walking whilst overextended, you will cause damage to your knees. So be very mindful of trying not to overextend your leg when you don’t need to.
Best Knee Alignment for Knee Health
Your knee joint should be in straight alignment all the time. Basically, your knee should point in the same direction as your toes, hips, knees, ankle and foot. They should all be in the same plane. Try to never rotate your knee. Try to maintain your knee’s ability to flex, extend and hold force.
Your kneecap joint called the Patellofemoral joint is also very important with knee alignment. When you bend your knee excessively a load of your patella (kneecap) and surrounding ligaments get increased.
Make sure whenever you look down at your feet you can always see your toes. If your toes are hidden by your knee this suggests your knee is excessively bent forward which you don’t want!
As you can see in the above photos they show both good and poor knee alignment. On the left, the knee is properly aligned as the front kneecap is pointing towards the front toes and the femur is doing the proper external rotation.
Now look at the back knee (the back leg of the stance). These pictures showcase good and poor front knee alignment. It’s harder to see poor rear knee alignment but it’s just as bad for your knees as front knee misalignment.
Just make sure while doing Muay Thai or any other martial art, you follow these practices for proper knee health. Even doing your day to day activities such as moving furniture remember, the knee should point in the same direction as your toes, hips, knees, ankle and foot!
Do Knee Braces Help With Knee Issues?
Knee braces are inexpensive and comfortable to wear, but are they an effective treatment to protect injury? Michael Behr, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at Piedmont, says there are two main reasons to wear a knee brace:
- Structural support
- Pain relief
Knee braces are recommended for people who had an ACL tear or a type of knee injury. They can provide added support in the recovery process.
Knee braces are commonly prescribed by physicians for patients who have an ACL tear or some type of knee injury. The knee brace can provide added support during the recovery process.
For Muay Thai or other combat sports, you want a Prophylactic Brace that is designed to prevent injury to the knees. You can get a high-quality Shock Doctor Prophylactic Brace from Amazon via this link here. See a product review of someone whose life changed due to the Shock Doctor brace below.
If you purchase structural support for the knee you need to think about the follow things:
- Which ligaments of your knee are damaged
- What rehabilitation are you doing or need to do
- What sport are you doing
The following quote is from Michael James Behr regarding knee braces and sports. Remember, he is talking about American football which has very different movements patterns to Muay Thai.
“A knee brace can help athletes through an injury by providing additional support that will allow him or her to continue with physical activity,” Dr Behr says. “Today, many football players wear knee braces to prevent injury. Football players put an extra amount of pressure on their knees because of the sharp turns and lateral movement in this sport. All this movement can move your bones and ligaments in unnatural ways. Knee braces have proven to be a wise preventative measure in this particular sport.”Michael J. Behr, M.D
How To Diagnose Knee Issues
If you have a knee issue you must identify the problem before finding a solution. The main way to check your knee alignment is either looking into the mirror whilst walking or doing any shadowboxing and see if your knee is misaligned using the photos above as a guide.
You may also have someone else like a spouse/friend or parent take a look and observe your knee alignment or take a photo.
Your aim is to improve your knees alignment and potential kicking technique by improving your proprioception. This fancy word means the position and effort different parts of your body uses. Using visual cues such as the mirror is useful, but so is noticing the feeling of your feet!
Your feet have tons of nerve endings which are basically your bodies sensors that help you with gait (the way you walk) and maintaining proper balance. When your knee is properly aligned you will feel your body weight is being distributed evenly.
However, if your knee is misaligned (over-rated to either side) you will feel slightly off-balance to either side. Your foot will be pronated (your sole will be facing downwards/inwards) or supinated (your sole will be facing upwards or outwards).
I know it’s quite confusing but think of pronation as your foot being rolled to the inside and supination as your foot being rolled to the outside. Please check out this YouTube video that just makes things easier to understand!
How To Prevent And Treat Knee Issues
There could be many reasons why your knees are out of alignment, but they broadly fall into three distinct categories.
- Incorrect movement patterns. The most likely reason is a modern society with smartphones and computers which can cause most people to have bad posture. Sitting for long periods of time can make bad posture a habit which is very unhealthy for the entire body, not just the knees
- Poor Range Of Movement In The Hip, Ankle or Foot. If you lack mobility in any of the joints mentioned your body will try to overcompensate by over-mobilizing another joint which misaligns your knee.
- Weak Muscles in your core, legs, hips or back. Many muscles of the body such as the abs main objective are to stabilize the body. If you lack strength in these important muscle groups possibly from having a job/lifestyle where you sit for hours, it will make it difficult for you to properly practice good posture and alignment. Again our old friend the knee will suffer.
I know how difficult it is to correct posture imbalances as I’m currently doing it myself for my rounded shoulders. I know how hard it can be. You could seek professional advice for improving your range of motion and muscular weakness issues.
However, I know you can treat them yourself and improve your situation, so I’m including several videos that attack each problem you currently have or could be facing in the future. I wish you the best of luck with your treatment.