Caught in a Heel Hook


So it finally happened, I got caught in a heel hook and didn’t tap in time. I was attending our leg lock class, and we were playing king of the hill. My partner and I sat facing each other with our knees up and feet on the ground. We each had one foot in between the others legs, with the goal being to control your opponents legs and get both of your feet to the inside of your partners legs. Once you are able to get both legs to the inside, you then start working leg lock attacks from there. We started the battle, and I lost the initial phase. My partner controlled my legs and got the inside position. He quickly moved in to trap my legs. He was then able take advantage by grabbing my heel, which dangled dangerously near his arms as we were in a 50/50 position, with his legs safely hidden away. I tried to roll out of the position, and while doing so he secured the heel hook. It didn’t register to me that he had grabbed my heel as I was trying to escape 50/50, and the next thing I knew I felt a nauseating “pop” in my left knee. It hurt a lot, so much so that I yelled out a loud “ahhh”. My partner immediately stopped and asked if I was OK. Oddly, after the initial pop, the pain quickly went away, so we kept rolling. After king of the hill I finished class up with two rounds of sparring, then went home.

As I was driving home my knee started feeling a little sore. I got to my house, showered and went out to lunch with my family. At lunch the knee started aching a little more. This progression of pain went on throughout the day. By the evening my knee was aching pretty badly.

When I woke up the next day I knew that the knee was injured. Getting out of bed and trying to talk across the floor was very difficult. Putting any weight on my left leg hurt my knee.

I limped my way through the rest of the day, hoping it would get better the next. It didn’t. Through the advice a friend that I train with I decided to go see my doctor about it.

The doctor asked me a few relevant questions, “Was it swollen?” – no it wasn’t, “Was it bruised?” – no, no bruising either. I guess these were good signs. He then examined my knee, touching different parts of it and asking where it hurt. It hurt on the outside, indicating an issue with the LCL. He said “it’s probably a small tear where the tendon of the hamstring attaches to the knee”. We did not opt for an MRI. Instead he told me to rest it, and if it didn’t get better (or got worse) then we would get an MRI and take things from there.

So I rested it. I skipped class for the rest of the week. By the following Monday it was still tender, but seemed  better, so I thought I’d try to get back into class. At the beginning of class we usually do laps of hip escapes as our initial warm-up. As as I tried the first hip escape I knew it was too soon to be back on the mat. Something about using my leg to try push my  hips out caused a tremendous amount of pain in my knee. I stayed for class, lightly drilling the technique (side control escapes), and skipped sparring. The next day my knee hurt as bad as it did the day after it was initially injured.

The pain seems focused on the knobby bone on the outside of the knee, radiating down the side of my calf and up the side of my thigh (possibly an irritation of the IT band I would guess). I know next to nothing about human physiology, but from images I see online I think that’s where the LCL meets the fibula.

I’ll be off the mats for a little bit. The recommendation is plenty of rest, and gradually resuming activities as the pain subsides. I hate missing jiu jitsu, but there are some other nagging injuries that will hopefully heal up during this time of rest, so I guess there is a silver lining. I assist with teaching the kids classes at our academy, and I’ll keep doing that, which means I’ll still be around the school and will stick around to watch some of the instruction of the other classes. Even when injured I don’t like to be away from the academy to much. Just going and watching class helps me to feel connected to my jiu jistu practice.

This experience really shows the power of the heel hook. Even going lightly, with a training partner that I trust and have rolled with many times, accidents can happen. The heel hook if applied with any force I’m sure could wreak serious, life altering damage. It seems like a great self-defense technique if you’re ever in a situation where you’re overpowered and can’t get past someone’s legs in an altercation.

I’m really looking forward to getting back into the leg lock class and training these more. I’m a little nervous about re-injuring this knee of course, but I’m very interested in developing a better awareness of when I’m in danger of being heel hooked.

If you’re interested in reading more about heel  hooks I would recommend the following blog posts:

I’ll update this blog post as this injury heals up to document the recovery process.