We keep hearing we should stay away from sugar and find natural alternatives, but sugar may not always be our foe. In fact, sugar injections could possibly help relieve chronic joint and muscle pain.
The method of injecting patients with dextrose (sugar water) is known as prolotherapy, which promotes inflammation in an injured tissue. But how can this be if inflammation is the source of the problem? It turns out the process can trigger the body’s natural healing response.
Naturopathic doctor at the Rocky Mountain Wellness Clinic in Colorado, Dr. Matthew Brennecke weighs in: “This may sound counterintuitive, as that [inflammation] is what we ideally want to avoid, but there is a method to our madness,” he said via email. “Sugar brings about inflammation in the body. When you inject it, you can localize where that inflammation will occur.”
Brennecke, who specializes in chronic disease management and regularly uses natural medicine therapies, said the immune system responds to the inflammation and swarms the damaged joint space, ligaments and tendons in the injected area and repairs the tissues in that area, thus promoting growth of new ligaments or tendon fibers.
“We are manipulating the body to send helpful immune cells to the problematic area without damaging the area even more,” he said.
Brennecke has administered prolotherapy on patients and himself and has seen positive results. After a patient complained of an unstable knee, Brennecke injected the ligaments around his knee. The patient reported his knee was 80 percent more stable after the first injection and 95 percent more stable after the third injection. According to Brennecke, it may be a good alternative to surgery, painkillers and corticosteroid injections.
Patients typically need two to eight injections one to four weeks apart from each other.
Along with Brennecke’s positive results, this study showed prolotherapy as effective in relieving chronic pain. Researchers treated participants suffering from moderate knee osteoarthritis and followed them for 24 weeks. Twenty-four female patients received three monthly injection therapies and at the end of the last week saw a decrease in pain severity.
Evidence also suggests that prolotherapy might not benefit all parts of the body. Prolotherapy is effective in treating chronic pain in the Achilles tendon, the foot and hip, and arthritis in the knee and finger. However, researchers are not sure whether or not prolotherapy helps with lower back pain, for instance.
Some physicians are skeptical of the treatment. The Dallas Morning News quotes Steven Novella, assistant professor of neurology at the Yale School of Medicine: “It seems that the practice and promotion of prolotherapy greatly exceeds what is justified by this preliminary research. I would recommend caution to anyone considering this therapy, and certainly I would not believe the hype.”
Even though prolotherapy has been around for decades, it is only now receiving more attention, and further research needs to be conducted on its effectiveness.
“I think it’s a fantastically underutilized therapy and that if joint pain is a problem for anybody, it should be considered,” Brennecke said. “Initially, after the injection, there may be a temporary increase in pain and stiffness in the joint, but the patient should see noticeable improvement after each visit. The benefits from it can be long-term, often permanent pain relief.”