Prolotherapy for Osteoarthritis of the Knee

Knee X-rayThe National Institute of Health Division of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine has said that if a treatment works, and its results can be reproduced, then it is not alternative therapy.  Such a wise mantra is at the heart of a study published in the May/June issue of the Annals of Family Medicine and recently reviewed in MedPage.

David Rabago, MD, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison and his associates looked at whether prolotherapy is beneficial for those patients suffering from arthritis of the knee. Prolotherapy involves the injection of sugar water or dextrose into joints for the relief of pain. It has been used in different joints for over 75 years but most of the research studies available on its use suffer from poor scientific design and reproducibility.

This study involved 90 adults with knee arthritis in one or both knees for at least five years.  The mean age of the enrollees was 57 years with 2/3 of the enrollees being women and ¾ overweight or obese.  The enrollees were separated into groups. One group received dextrose injections, another received saline or salt water, and a non-injection exercise group. The injections were given at weeks 1, 5, 9, 13 and 17. 

Prolotherapy required them to make multiple punctures around the knee at various tendon and ligament sites. 22.5 mL of either concentrated dextrose or saline placebo were injected into the knees followed by an intra-articular injection of 6mL of additional fluid.   A third arm of the study included patients given no injections but instructed in a home exercise physical therapy program. 

In the dextrose group, 17 patients received injections in only one knee and 13 had treatment in both knees. In the placebo saline group, 15 had a single knee treated while 13 had both knees treated.   During the study, 14 patients in each group used oral non-steroidal inflammatory drugs to relieve pain and discomfort.  All patients receiving injections reported mild to moderate pain after the procedure and up to 2/3 used oral oxycodone before or after the procedure.

The patients used the Western Ontario McMaster University Osteoarthritis Index to score their pain, function and stiffness. There was a significant difference in the improvement of those receiving the dextrose injections as compared to those receiving saline injections. Ninety-one percent of those receiving the dextrose injections said they would recommend the treatment to others.

This was a preliminary study which showed the effectiveness of an alternative therapy in treating a common and chronic condition. It is clear that these findings necessitate a larger study which can look at the correct dosage to inject and to explore how the sugar injections actually work. It appears to be a relatively inexpensive way to relieve chronic pain and is worthy of further study!