What Is Prolotherapy And How Does It Work?

In some holistic treatments, specifically for chronic pain affecting the musculoskeletal system, a special type of injection therapy is used known as prolotherapy. This is short for proliferation therapy, but it has many other names, such as sclerotherapy, nonsurgical ligament reconstruction, and regenerative injection therapy. Not many people fully understand this practice, but it could be what helps your back pain return to normality after months of aches, so here is a breakdown of how it works and what to expect.

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The history of prolotherapy

Prolotherapy has roots in the distant past, with Roman gladiators using hot needles to soothe their aching shoulders in a similar way to this treatment, combining irritation and injury with rejuvenation. It has evolved over the centuries until it reached its current form, which emerged (and was named) in the United States during the 1950s.
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How does it work?

The process as it currently stands involves injecting an irritant into a person’s ligament, tendon, or joint as a way to relieve pain. The specific irritant can vary but is typically a simple dextrose sugar. Alternatively, other substances such as glycerine (sugar alcohol), sodium morrhuate (an extract of cod liver oil), lidocaine (an anaesthetic), and phenol (an antiseptic).

It is thought that doing this kick-starts the body’s natural repair systems, allowing the injured area to slowly but surely heal when it otherwise would not, also strengthening the area in the process. Though this is primarily often used to treat back pain, it can also be used to soothe issues with the shoulders, hips, knees, and more. Joint conditions such as arthritis might also find some relief through prolotherapy.

Who is eligible for prolotherapy?

These treatments can spread across months, with it typically taking between three and six rounds of treatment with at least a few weeks between them – though it can sometimes take more sessions. Some people are not eligible for prolotherapy, however, which is why it is important to be assessed by a doctor before any rounds of treatment. Medical professionals will often use X-rays to determine your eligibility, as well as your prior medical history. Anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant medications may interfere with prolotherapy, for example, as can an abscess or a bleeding disorder.

Possible side effects

As with any medical treatment, the procedure is not entirely without the risk of side effects. Of course, the injection of an irritant into the body can cause minor irritation, but it is also possible that an infection might arise, which is typically treated using antibiotics. Some minor swelling can also develop at the site of the injection, but this is temporary.

At Wandal Medical Centre in Rockhampton, we embrace a variety of traditional and alternative treatments for any number of conditions that might be affecting your day-to-day life. We aim to treat patients holistically, meaning that we view the body as a whole, in conjunction with a person’s spirit and mind. This allows us to find the best balance in helping people, and prolotherapy is just one of the treatments we offer.


Dr. Priyanta Thotagamuwa (MBBS, FRACGP)

Dr. Priyanta Thotagamuwa (MBBS, FRACGP)

Dr. Priyanta Thotagamuwa (MBBS, FRACGP) is operating Wandal Medical Centre in Rockhampton with the aim and interest of treating patients in a holistic manner. As a GP he offers medical assistance to patients of all ages, seeking advice, treatment or minor procedures.