Kathy Stevens, who has been training my dogs for the past three years, is a battle-scarred veteran of the war against chronic pain. Kathy injured her back when she fell from a ladder in 1996. As a result of her injury, she lost the feeling in her legs for four weeks. When sensation did return, she almost wished it hadn’t—she suffered intense pain that deprived her of sleep and interfered with her ability to do her job. Her legs were so weak that at times, they would simply give out from under her.

Kathy went through the usual merry-go-round of treatments with painkillers, physical therapy, and even a high-tech procedure called thermocoagulation, in which a hot needle was inserted into her lumbar spine to shrink a swollen disc. But none of these relieved her pain, so after living with it for a year, she consulted an orthopedic surgeon, who advised her to have the damaged disc removed. When she mentioned to me that she was contemplating surgery, I urged her to try prolotherapy first, a nonsurgical intervention that eliminates pain by addressing the underlying cause: weakened ligaments and tendons.

Kathy’s Pain Is History

Kathy came to the Whitaker Wellness Institute for her first prolotherapy treatment in September. Once a month for four months, she received several strategically placed injections of a mildly irritating solution containing dextrose or a cod liver oil extract. By the third month, her pain had lessened considerably, and after her fourth treatment, she had regained much of the strength in her legs. Today, she exercises on a treadmill, sits through movies without suffering pain, and has no trouble keeping up with her dogs.

This patient’s experience is not unique. George Hackett, MD, the father of prolotherapy, treated thousands of patients and achieved a success rate of about 90 percent. Contemporary research, including double-blind placebo-controlled studies, shows similar results for a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions. The procedure is safe—much safer than aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which result in more than 16,000 deaths from gastrointestinal complications every year—and much less costly and traumatic than surgery. Most important, it works.

Loose Ligaments Cause Pain

To understand how prolotherapy works, you need to know a little about joint anatomy. Synovial joints, the free-moving joints that give us our remarkable flexibility, consist of bones covered with cartilage, held in place by thick fibers called ligaments that attach bone to bone. Ligaments are normally taut, strong bands of connective tissue, but when they are injured, they become weak and lax, making it difficult for them to do their job of holding a joint in place. As a result, nerve fibers within the ligament are activated and cause local pain and inflammation. Injury to tendons, which connect bones to muscles, can similarly cause pain and inflammation.

NSAIDs relieve joint pain by countering inflammation. Unfortunately, because inflammation is the first stage of your body’s healing process, these drugs also hinder recovery. In addition, they damage the stomach lining and destroy cartilage, the cushioning material that protects joints. Finally, NSAIDs do nothing to address the underlying laxity of ligaments and tendons that is the source of chronic pain. This is where prolotherapy comes in.

Prolotherapy Stimulates Healing

Prolotherapy (also called sclerotherapy or reconstructive therapy) is a nonsurgical intervention that causes a proliferation and shortening of collagen fibers in connective tissue. It involves the injection of a mildly irritating solution, such as dextrose or sodium morrhuate (from cod liver oil), into the area where ligaments or tendons attach to bone. Just as a fire alarm triggered in a burning building calls fire fighters to the site, the injection of an irritant provokes inflammation and draws specialized immune cells to the area. These cells go to work engulfing and removing cellular debris and foreign material in preparation for phase two of the healing process.

A day or two after this, rebuilding begins. The workhorses of this phase are the fibroblasts that form new collagen tissue, the basic building blocks of ligaments and tendons. Over the next few weeks, tissue growth continues, resulting in thicker, stronger ligaments and tendons that regain their ability to stabilize the joint and take the pressure off sensitive nerve endings. Sometimes one treatment is enough to achieve complete pain relief, but it usually takes about four treatments, administered at three- to four-week intervals, to produce sufficient collagen growth to relieve pain and restore normal function.

Results Are Miraculous

For patients with chronic pain who have tried everything from drugs and surgery to physical therapy and chiropractic manipulation, prolotherapy can be a miracle. These patients may have suffered for years with chronic pain that sapped their energy, deprived them of sleep, and left them unable to do the things that they enjoy. Yet within four to six months, they are free of pain and feel normal for the first time in years.

If you haven’t heard of prolotherapy until now, you’re not alone. This simple and effective therapy has been around for at least half a century, but due to the bias toward drugs and surgery that pervades the medical profession, it has never gotten the attention it deserves. That’s why I’ve brought prolotherapy to the Whitaker Wellness Institute, and that’s why I’m writing about it here. No one who suffers from chronic pain should have to learn to live with it. Patients like Kathy who have come to the Whitaker Wellness Institute for prolotherapy are living proof that permanent pain relief is possible.

Recommendations

* Prolotherapy is useful for many chronic, painful conditions, including back pain, arthritis pain, migraines, sciatica, TMJ, tendinitis, and sports-related injuries. To find a doctor who administers this procedure, please contact the American Association of Orthopaedic Medicine (AAOM) via their Web site at http://www.aaomed.org. Once on the Web site, go to “Find a Doctor.” Type in your state. The Web site will then list the various doctors in your area. The ones that perform prolotherapy will be coded with an A under the “Therapies” section in the listing. Because of the high volume of calls they receive, the AAOM prefers you use this Web site. They may not be able to refer you to a specific doctor by phone.

* Another source for referrals is the American College of Osteopathic Pain Management and Sclerotherapy at (302) 996-0300.

* If you’re interested in receiving treatment at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call (800) 488-1500.

Bibliography

Hauser, R. A., Prolo Your Pain Away! Oak Park, IL: Beulah Land Press, 1998.
Ko, G., “Prolotherapy: A New ‘Old’ Treatment for Chronic Back Pain,” Natural Medicine Journal 1 (1998): 12–17.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health”, visit http://selfgrowth.com/healthbook3.html

Author's Bio: 

Julian Whitaker, MD, is director of the Whitaker Wellness Institute and editor of the “Health and Healing” newsletter, which provides important health advice for more than 500,000 people nationwide. Dr. Whitaker graduated from Dartmouth College in 1966 and received his MD degree in 1970 from Emory University Medical School. He completed his surgical internship at Grady Memorial Hospital in 1971 and continued at the University of California in San Francisco in orthopedic surgery. In 1974, Dr. Whitaker founded the California Orthomolecular Medical Society, along with four other physicians and the Nobel Prize–winning scientist Dr. Linus Pauling. Dr. Whitaker is the author of several books, including the best-selling Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks. For more information, visit http://www.DrWhitaker.com.