Take Control of Knee Injury Prevention

 Chris So / Toronto Star / Getty Images

How to detect small problems before they become big ones.

Movement Screening

Just like you see your doctor or dentist for a regular checkup, you should periodically check in with a physical therapist or movement specialist. “Everyone needs to have their muscle strength and movement patterns checked,” says Joseph Hart of the University of Virginia. “By the time you notice that your knee is sore or swollen, it’s too late.” That’s especially true if you’ve had a previous injury. You may feel fine, but the reality is that your knee anatomy has changed. A screening ensures you haven’t developed subtle compensatory patterns since you healed up. Visits run between $150 to $200 and are often covered by insurance.

Gait Analysis

In this evaluation of strength and flexibility, a series of exercises is done on video to detect movement problems. Some tests use high-speed motion capture — similar to the technology used to mimic human movements for computer-generated characters in movies — which is able to pick up biomechanical abnormalities even highly trained physical therapists fail to catch. Hospitals, sports performance centers, and other specialized high-tech clinics offer the analysis for $150 to $500.

Active Release Technique (ART)

Go to a physical therapist or trained specialist for ART and he or she will manually search for injuries in muscles, tendons, and ligaments and then use pressure to release the nerves that are impairing blood flow to the area. This gives muscles a needed boost of oxygen and allows the body to repair itself naturally. “It’s almost like a deep-tissue massage,” says Dr. John Hill, a sports-medicine specialist at the University of Colorado, Denver. Treatments cost between $150 to $300 and are often covered by insurance. Two sessions — one to evaluate the source of the trouble, the other to get rid of it — are usually enough.

Dry Needling

Here, a trained practitioner inserts a very fine filament needle, similar to the type used in acupuncture, into the muscle to target painful trigger points or knots. One theory is that the needling prompts a twitch, sparking changes in the chemistry of muscle fibers that lessen inflammation and tightness. One or two sessions are usually all a patient needs to ease chronic pain. Costs vary widely; sometimes needling can be included in physical therapy.