"Sometimes I think I train too vigorously."
It sometimes seems to fans and MMA observers (your truly included) that MMA athletes are loathe to make an admission such as this. However, this was Pena's perception of herself in a recent interview with MMA Fight Radio. In the interview, Pena offered a revealing look at the devastating right knee injury that forced her withdrawal from UFC 171, and the surgery that followed.
In describing the injury, which occurred January 27, Pena noted,
"You know they say some people train too much and I think I might be one of those people. It was a couple of months out from my fight and I was just going like I had a fight tomorrow or the next day or whatever... I put on my gym shoes and I ran to the gym and I did a hard, hard cardio session and a hard, hard leg work out and I took about a 45 minute break and went to the gym and literally stepped on the mat; hit the time clock and a minute later my knee was tore out. I was training with a partner and one thing led to another and I just tore my knee out completely...
She continued, revealing that she tore her ACL, LCL, MCL and a meniscus, and has "3 beautiful scars running up my leg." She is attending physical therapy, and has just been released to walk with with partial weight on the injured leg. She is using an electrical stimulation device on her leg, which is probably being used to enhance her quadriceps muscle contraction during exercise sessions. This is often referred to as functional electrical stimulation. Given the extensive surgery that Pena endured, her quadriceps muscles are probably suffering from inhibition. This is not uncommon, and I see it frequently in my PT work. The pain and swelling in the knee will keep the quads from contracting maximally during exercise. This can also be a cause of gait (walking) abnormalities in the post-operative phase of knee rehab. Electrical stimulation used to enhance quad muscle contraction can help to resolve this condition, and allow Pena to return to a normal gait as soon as possible. Restoring a normalized gait pattern is crucial in the early rehab phase, in order to prevent scarring in the knee joint and persistent weakness of the quadriceps muscles.
Pena commented on her timeline to return to fighting, stating "My time frame in my mind is 6-9 months. I don't think anyone would fault me if I needed to go a year." Her realization that she may be on the shelf for a full year is probably borne from a negative experience with a previous knee injury. Pena injured her left ACL prior to her successful run in The Ultimate Fighter. In the interview, she admits that she came back too early following the ACL surgery, and "damaged my leg again."
While Pena's knee injury was apparently the result of a freak accident during training, one cannot ignore the likelihood that muscle fatigue due to over training played a role in this accident. She admits to participating in multiple hard work outs, including a "hard, hard" leg work out just prior to the injury.
If over training did play a role in Pena's injury, let's hope that other MMA athletes will learn from her misfortune.