Prolotherapy is a regenerative treatment for tendon, ligament, or joint pain. It’s a safe and effective non-surgical option and can be used to treat pain from a previous injury or from the general wear and tear of aging.
Prolotherapy treatment involves injecting a patient with a natural solution, such as a high-concentration dextrose (sugar) solution, at tendon and ligament attachment sites on the bone and in adjacent joint spaces. The process initiates a localized inflammatory response at the site of the injection which initiates a healing response in the body that promotes new tissue (rather than scar tissue) growth, thereby healing and strengthening the ligament and/or tendon. The repair helps relieve pain and restore function.
Injuries such as sprains which over-stretch tissue, or “tennis elbow” which over-use tissue, benefit from prolotherapy. When tendons and ligaments become loose they contribute to over-stimulation of nerves which causes pain. It is also beneficial for pain from the degenerative changes of arthritis.
Many people are unfamiliar with prolotherapy and think that it is a new treatment intervention but prolotherapy has been used for many years. There are published clinical reports of prolotherapy-like treatments dating back to 1937. In the 1950s, George S Hackett, MD originated the specific term “prolotherapy” based on its ability to proliferate new cells by stimulating the body’s healing response. It is also sometimes referred to as “regenerative injection therapy” (RIT). It is this proliferative benefit with regenerative healing properties that sets prolotherapy apart from other injection treatments. Unlike steroid injections, which help the pain temporarily but do not promote healing, prolotherapy injections induce the proliferation of new cells, which treats the underlying defect and not just the symptoms.
The injections are done in a series approximately two to six weeks apart to allow for the regenerative process to take place, and each treatment builds upon the previous one for cumulative benefit. The number of sessions required depends on the extent of the damage to the tendons, ligaments, or joints. The procedure can be performed in an outpatient office with no need to visit a hospital or surgical facility, with a reassessment of the progression of healing and pain relief at each office visit. Adverse effects from prolotherapy include post-injection soreness and mild bruising at injection sites which generally resolve in a couple of days. Infections and bleeding can occur with any type of injection treatment but are rare.
Professional athletes often receive prolotherapy as part of their medical care, and especially after an injury so they can get back into the game sooner. If pain is keeping you from doing the activities that you would like to do, or perhaps interfering with your daily activities at home or work, consider an evaluation to see if prolotherapy is right for you.
Erika LeBaron, DOPrint this page