Prolotherapy is also known as proliferation therapy or regeneration therapy. There’s been different versions of this type of therapy around for centuries – in ancient times the Romans would use a type of prolotherapy on injured gladiators. The current procedures began in the 1930s and has evolved into the current incarnation. The practice is used for many different injuries or conditions.
Gustav Hemwall and George S. Hackett began using the therapy in the 1950s to help with joint repair and hernias. They pioneered the injections and helped create the therapy as we now know it.
What Is It?
Prolotherapy is the act of injecting an irritant into an area around weak ligaments or tendons in an effort to kickstart the healing process. As mentioned, Romans would use a type of prolotherapy on injured gladiators. Instead of injecting an irritant solution, Roman practitioners would poke the damaged muscles with hot needles. Not so fun, but the theory was sound. Today’s use has a solution injected – an irritant but non-active.
What Conditions Are Treated?
There are a number of uses for prolotherapy. You may be able to see improvement in your pain and condition if you suffer from:
- Low back pain
- Neck pain
- Dislocated joints
Other conditions may be treated. There’s some theoretical evidence that some injuries can benefit from the therapy. Chronic pain in general may be relived by the therapy when it is performed in a series. The number of treatments will be specific to you and your injury or condition.
Prolotherapy isn’t for everyone and people with abscesses, bleeding disorders, on blood thinners, allergies, cellulitis, septic arthritis, and fractures, should avoid the procedure. Most people that report any side effects show only mild issues. These are typically pain where the irritant was injected, numbness, or a small amount of bleeding. Most people notice a reduction or alleviation of pain completely by using over the counter pain relievers. The most severe side effect is allergic reaction. Sodium morthate is the irritant used and an allergy to this chemical is rare. Other potential effects are lightheadedness, back pain, bruising, or infection.
How Effective Is Prolotherapy?
A few randomized studies found that prolotherapy used in combination with other pain control methods provide symptoms relief for long term. This is a result of the body healing itself after the irritant is introduced. Pain is a cause of stress and when a person is stressed they are less likely to heal as well. Pain relief combined with a healing ‘kickstarter’ has been called beneficial by some studies.
(“Injections to Kick-Start Tissue Repair”. New York Times. Retrieved 24 July 2008. “Prolotherapy involves a series of injections designed to produce inflammation in the injured tissue.”)
Will It Work For Me?
If you have chronic pain stemming from one of the mentioned conditions, prolotherapy could possibly help you. Some insurances may not cover the therapy, though others may. Your insurance carrier may need a request from your doctor before prolotherapy would be covered.
Trials are being conducted frequently to uncover the further uses of this therapy. Most revolve around helping the body relieve pain through healing old injuries or improving muscle pain by healing improperly firing nerves (fibromyalgia and muscular dystrophies).
If you are using PRP (platelet rich plasma injections), this therapy may stimulate the healing process while the PRP injections ‘feed’ the healing area with the nutrients needed to use as building blocks. Combinations of therapies can speed the healing process or provide pain relief where none was found previously.
Currently Medicare and Medicaid do not cover prolotherapy, but both have made statements that if further trials or studies show more positive signs in the healing properties of the therapy, the entities will offer coverage. For now it is considered an experimental procedure.
How Many Treatments Will I need?
This depends on how well your body responds to the procedure. Some people need six or more treatments, some may see improvement right away and need one to three treatments. Your timetable for injections will be determined by the physician attending your pain relief needs.