Anatomy In Action IV: The Heel Hook
Heel hooks are probably the most feared submission in all of grappling. While it is illegal in most Gi competitions, this submission is hugely popular in No-Gi grappling due to how quickly it can achieve a tap.
Because of the orientation of the femur sitting right on top of the tibia, the knee is a fairly stable joint. The meniscus then sits between the femur and the tibia and helps to distribute force across the knee as well as helping to stabilize the knee by increasing the contact area of the joint.
The ACL, PCL, MCL, and LCL are ligaments that help to stabilize the tibiofemoral joint in all directions. While the ACL’s primary role is to decrease anterior translation of the tibia and the MCL resists valgus forces, they are both also involved in rotational defenses. So they, along with the menisci, are the structures typically damaged by a heel-hook.
Now this doesn’t seem dissimilar to other submissions in that it attacks joint structures. The problem arises because of the types of structures. Ligaments don’t have the same sensory fibers that other structures do and will frequently require surgery if damaged. So, by the time a fighter feels the need to tap, it is already too late. Most often, the meniscus, ACL, and MCL are already torn.
With the heel hook, you want to capture the opponent’s thigh so there is no motion coming from the hip. This is done by either pinching your knees around their thigh or rotating their hip to end range. Once hip motion is eliminated, you rotate the heel. While this seems to be an ankle attack, the submission crosses two joints and will destroy the weakest link. 9 times out of ten, this is the knee.
This is because the knee is designed to primarily bend and straighten. It has very little movement in rotation.
Tibial Rotation to increase mobility and give you an extra second to tap:
-Bend your knee to about 90 degrees and hold the very top of your shin.
-Slowly turn your foot in and out as far as you can.
-You should feel your tibia rotating underneath your hands.
-Repeat 5-10 times.
Now when wondering how to rehab a heel hook injury, the answer is easy. If a heel hook is bad enough that you need to consider how to come back from, you owe it to yourself to go visit a knowledgeable healthcare professional. The only ones qualified to diagnose this kind of injury are a Physical Therapy or an orthopedic surgeon, don’t take your buddy, Joe’s word for it.