Can Prolotherapy Cure Your Painful Joints?

Can Prolotherapy Cure Your Painful Joints?

Nine hours in airports and airplanes followed by three hours in a well-worn van driving along after dark trying to avoid potholes, donkeys, and pedestrians—yes, this is how my journey began!

On February 22nd, 2013 I had the opportunity to join a team of medical providers with the Hemwall Hackett Foundation through the University of Wisconsin. A group of 80 MD’s, DO’s, nurses and volunteers flew to San Pedro Sula Honduras and split among 3 clinics: La Ceiba, Tela, and Olanchito. The purpose of the trip was to treat the underserved patients in this third world country while also providing additional training in prolotherapy for the physicians. Teams have been going to Honduras to practice prolotherapy for over 20 years.

Prolotherapy has been around since 1920 when it was initially used to treat hernias and varicose veins. In the 1950’s osteopathic physicians (DO’s) began also using it around joints. Treatment involves a series of injections into ligaments at their points of attachment to the bones using a mixture of 15% dextrose (sugar solution) and 1% lidocaine (a local anesthetic). This creates a mild inflammatory reaction causing white blood cells to travel to the region to heal it. These white blood cells also carry growth factor proteins which are natural healing proteins capable of halting progressive degeneration such as osteoarthritis and tendinopathies like tennis elbow.

Studies have shown that osteoarthritis often begins with instability or laxity of the ligaments surrounding a joint. Rather than focusing on halting the inflammation with chronic medications like Advil, Aleve and Celebrex, prolotherapy is a minimally invasive treatment that can treat the root cause of your pain.

We treated 550 patients in nine days at La Ceiba clinic. Many were returning for another joint to be treated because it had been so successful in years past. Our team had teenagers from the local high school serve as translators for the patients. This was necessary for me as I don’t speak or understand Spanish! The clinic was located in a Red Cross building supported by volunteer staff. They were a wonderful group of dedicated individuals who made sure things ran smoothly.

Each day we got up at 6:30 AM and ate breakfast at the hotel before our 90 minute lecture and anatomy review. Then we climbed into trucks and minivans for the 10 minute trip to the clinic. It was hot (80-100 degrees) but we had a window air conditioner. Unfortunately part of being in a third world country is dealing with power outages. One afternoon in clinic with the AC out the temperature rose to 100 degrees and we continued working by headlamps! We were reminded to hydrate frequently and take short breaks as needed and were able to finish our day. Clinics ran 8:30-5 PM with 1 hour for lunch. The majority of patients were poor but not homeless and very appreciative of our help. A few were pharmacists, doctors and media personnel who heard we were there and wanted treatment as well.

I found the work to be very rewarding and was able to make new friends with my fellow medical team, the translators and Red Cross volunteers. Going on a trip like this for 2 weeks away from my family and friends was a stretch out of my comfort zone for sure. Somehow, though, I just knew this was my time to grab the opportunity and I’m so glad I did. One of my friends described it well when she said “for me, trips such as these have always been more of an inward journey than an outward one.” We just never know what we are capable of until we’re put to the test. Another friend and colleague said he believes we are most shaped by the books we read and the people we meet. That rings true for me as well. On this journey I definitely read some interesting books and met some amazing people.

Have you ever gone on a mission trip or to a third world country? I would love to hear your experiences about it. As for me, it won’t be my last trip!

Elizabeth Woolford M.D.

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