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What Are Prolotherapy Injections?

By Haven Lee
Updated May 17, 2024
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Prolotherapy injections are an experimental treatment for chronic pain. Also known as nonsurgical ligament reconstruction, this treatment involves injecting sugar solutions into painful areas, such as ligaments and tendons, to stimulate the body's natural healing process. Doctors typically recommend prolotherapy injections when patients fail to respond to traditional treatments. Prolotherapy is used to treat a variety of chronic pain, including arthritis, tendinitis, back pain and sports injuries. Scientific studies into prolotherapy have shown mixed results in its effectiveness.

The term "prolotherapy" refers to proliferation therapy. Prolotherapy purportedly ignites the proliferation of new skeletal tissue. The theory behind prolotherapy is that when a substance is injected into an affected area, it causes localized inflammation. The body's natural response is to generate new collagen, which is a fibrous material of which connective tissues are made. The healing process strengthens connective tissues and reduces pain in that area.

Prolotherapy injections typically contain dextrose, which is a common form of simple sugar, but other substances are sometimes used. The goal is to create a minor injury in the painful area to stimulate the body's natural healing response. Some insurance companies do not cover experimental procedures such as prolotherapy injections. Patients typically require about six sessions, depending on the severity of the condition. The sessions are generally spread over the course of several months.

The doctor generally will conduct an X-ray or ultrasound of the area before the procedure to provide guidance. A mild, local anesthetic is often used to desensitize the area. Some doctors recommend a sedative for patients who experience anxiety during procedures that include needles. The doctor typically will inject the area with a harmless solution several times. The pain is described as a pinching sensation.

After the patient receives prolotherapy injections, the affected area typically is swollen and sore for a few days. The doctor usually will schedule the next procedure for several weeks later to allow the healing process to take place. The patient is instructed to keep the area clean and dry. The area is vulnerable to infection, which is a complication that can require hospitalization. Most doctors recommend limiting movement in that area while the healing process takes place.

The typical response to treatment varies widely, depending on the individual. Patients might notice increased flexibility in the affected joint and reduced pain after the process is complete. Patients who are slow to respond to treatment might require 10 or more sessions.

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