Prolotherapy is a procedure where a natural irritant is injected into the soft tissue of an injured joint. The irritant kick-starts the body’s healing response. Prolotherapy is not a surgical treatment. Because of this, it is also known as a regenerative joint injection or non-surgical ligament and tendon reconstruction. It is believed to assist the body’s potential to heal and repair to restore or establish typical structure and function, which is why it is called a regenerative treatment approach.
Prolotherapy is mainly used to treat injured joints, ligaments, and pain. While it is most used for the back, doctors may also use prolotherapy in the following areas of the body:
- Other joints and ligaments
In some cases, people with chronic conditions, such as degenerative disc disease or arthritis, may wish to use prolotherapy to help ease their pain.
How does it work?
Prolotherapy is an injection that uses dextrose (a simple sugar) solution as an irritant. This is thought to trigger the body’s healing response. Once activated, the body will strengthen and repair damaged ligaments/tendons/cartilage and other soft tissue in and around the joint. Over time, it helps to stabilize the joint. The pain can improve once the joint is better supported, and better function is restored.
What to Expect
Your doctor will examine you and mark the spot that requires injections. Next, the doctor prepares your skin with a sterilizing solution. Once prepared, the doctor will use a needle to inject the dextrose solution into several points around the target area in the back or joint. The number of injections used depends on the site or joint affected. A patient experiences the pinprick from the needle and, usually, a bit of a pressure sensation as the sugar water solution is injected. They may also feel an occasional twinge or momentary sharp pain.
Prolotherapy usually requires several injections at the injury or weakened area. Clinical literature indicates that 3-6 treatments give the best result. After that, there may be a need for periodic maintenance treatments. An individual can expect multiple injections per session and several sessions over 3 to 6 months.
Medical professionals supporting the use of prolotherapy believe that strengthened joints will mean the pain is reduced. Also, the improved strength of the joint will help with stability and improve overall movement and function of the back and joints. Prolotherapy is an all-natural, permanent treatment, as it relies on the body repairing itself to reduce pain and improve function… genuinely regenerative.
In contrast, pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections or joint lubricants (i.e., hyaluronic acid) only provide temporary relief. Similarly, surgical options do not always work to stabilize a joint fully.
A patient may experience post-injection soreness and stiffness for 3-7 days. They are suggested to do more light exercise for 1-2 weeks and no excessive motion or force to the injection area with a 2–6-weeks transition into exercise/activity guided by exam and functional status. Over six weeks, a shift to complete activities is possible.
Anti-inflammatories (Advil, Aleve, Naprosyn, aspirin etc.), Tylenol and corticosteroids should be avoided for a week or corticosteroids as they impair natural body healing. Using heat (hot bath, heating pad etc.) is helpful in increasing circulation, which helps recovery.
Risks and side effects
There have been few reported side effects from prolotherapy. In rare cases, the worst side effect is an infection at the injection site. A potential infection will show through fever and pain, and it is usually easy to treat with antibiotics. Please review the consent form for more information. Another side effect may be temporary swelling or pain where the injection occurred. Immediately following the procedure, the affected joint may feel worse before beginning to feel better.