What is it?
Prolotherapy uses injections of natural substances to strengthen torn, damaged, injured, pulled, or weak joints, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. This therapy is also known as sclerotherapy, proliferative therapy, or reconstructive therapy. Prolotherapy is a nonsurgical method that stimulates the body to repair damaged tissues by promoting the growth of new connective tissue.
Tendons, cartilage, ligaments, and bones have a poor blood supply and heal slowly. Weakened tissues can cause joint instability. The body attempts to correct the instability by forming calcium-containing bony or arthritic deposits (spurs). These spurs increase joint friction and may cause increased pain and weakness. The pain and weakness in the joint may lead to further damage and loss of joint mobility.
Prolotherapy involves an injection ("shot") containing a local anesthetic (numbing medicine) and a natural irritant, such as dextrose, phenol, minerals, or other natural substances. The injection prompts a local increase in blood supply that promotes healing and connective tissue repair. The repaired tissue stabilizes and cushions the joint. This increases joint strength and mobility and reduces or totally eliminates the pain.
The first prolotherapy treatment usually begins with a complete evaluation, including x-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). After the diagnosis has been made, you will have 12 to 30 weekly injections to try to fully restore joint strength and function. The treatments can be painful and may cause temporary swelling. Most patients feel an improvement after six weeks which is the average time it takes new tissues to develop. Treatments can continue for a few months or up to a year for severe problems.
During the time you are receiving treatments, most care givers give nutritional supplements to encourage new tissue growth. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and anti-inflammatory drugs because these will slow the healing process.
Prolotherapy has been practiced in the United States for over 60 years. Degenerative arthritis, bunions, rotator cuff injuries, tennis elbow, Achilles tendon tears, and carpal tunnel syndrome may be helped with prolotherapy. It may also be used to treat bursitis, headaches, degenerative discs, back and neck pain, torn ligaments, and tendons. Compression fractures, weak joints, recurring joint dislocations, and joints requiring a support brace are other possible indications for prolotherapy.
Prolotherapy has few side effects. An allergic reaction to the injection may cause stiffness, swelling, and redness. Some tissue pain should be expected after the first two or three injections. Other reactions may include nausea or a headache that lasts a few days.
Prolotherapy is not taught in medical schools. Medical doctors, osteopaths, and naturopaths learn about prolotherapy through further education. Most people choose prolotherapy after drug treatments and surgery have failed.
For more information:
- American Association of Orthopedic Medicine (800) 992-2063.
- American Osteopathic Academy of Sclerotherapy (302) 792-9280.
- American Academy of Neural Therapy (206) 749-9967.
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Last Updated: 3/4/2018