Prolotherapy (proliferative therapy) is a treatment for patients with chronic joint and muscle pain; it is offered as an alternative to over-the-counter pain relievers (NSAIDs), corticosteroids and, in some cases, surgery. Prolotherapy is based on the premise that the injection of a mild irritant, usually dextrose, into a joint, ligament or tendon triggers a localized inflammatory response, thereby stimulating an increase in blood supply to damaged tissue. With this increased blood flow comes an increased supply of immune cells and collagen to assist in repairing the damage, and stimulating the formation of new, healthy connective tissue.
Uses of Prolotherapy
Prolotherapy is used to treat a variety of musculoskeletal conditions. Although its effectiveness has not been proven, proponents point out that it has seemingly successfully treated a wide variety of conditions, including the following:
- Connective-tissue damage
- Partially torn tendons or ligaments
- Sacroiliac and sciatic problems
- Chronic tendonitis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Myofascial pain
Although why it seems to work has not been established, there is anecdotal evidence that prolotherapy warrants further investigation and, as long as it seems to be helping patients, should continue to be used. In some documented cases, the tissue treated with prolotherapy appears to be stronger and thicker than the original. There is also evidence that prolotherapy repairs connective-tissue damage, even years after the original injury occurred.
The Prolotherapy Procedure
Prolotherapy solution is injected into the ligament or tendon at the site of the injury or damage. The precision with which the injection is placed ensures that the resulting inflammation is only to the damaged tissue. The body reacts by increasing the flow of blood and nutrients to the damaged area, helping tissue in the region to regenerate.
Treatment with prolotherapy depends on the nature and extent of the damage within the joint, as well as how quickly a person heals. For some people, treatment may consist of only a few sessions, whereas others may require more than 10. For most injuries, the average number of treatment sessions is between four and six. Treatments may be administered every 2, 4 or 6 weeks.
Risks of Prolotherapy
Possible side effects, which can last between 2 and 4 days after treatment, include swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache and nausea. More common side effects are soreness and some stiffness at the treatment site for 1 to 2 days post-procedure. The most serious risk, though rare, is that the injection, if incorrectly administered, will cause nerve damage.