Can knee pain be relieved with dextrose (a form of sugar) dissolved in water? Injecting such a solution into ligaments and tendons may indeed prove to be an effective way to address arthritis. A recently published study from the University of Wisconsin suggests that the benefits of this treatment, called prolotherapy, can last up to one year. The research team divided 90 patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee into three groups. One group received the sugar-water injections, the second group got injections of salt water, and the third group was taught exercises to perform at home. After 12 months, patients in the sugar water group reported improvements in knee function of 16 points on a 100-point scale of osteoarthritis severity. Those in the salt water group improved by five points and the exercise group by seven points, the investigators reported. As for pain, the sugar water group improved 14 points on the same severity scale after one year; the salt water and exercise groups improved seven points and nine points, respectively.
My take? The theory behind prolotherapy is that the injections stimulate growth of new, healthy tissue to help stabilize bones and joints, thus relieving pain and stiffness. I’ve read that critics of previous prolotherapy studies supported the methodology used in this new investigation, but noted that additional studies will have to be completed before we can consider prolotherapy as standard treatment for arthritis. I agree. Risks to this method include localized inflammation, pain, swelling, redness, soreness, temporary stiffness and bruising as well as temporary numbness, tingling or itching at the injection site. The procedure costs $200 to $1,000 per session and is not covered by Medicare. If you prefer supplements to injections for arthritic pain relief, I recommend combination products that contain ginger, turmeric and other anti-inflammatory herbs, which I find work very well with few or no side effects.
David Rabago et al, “Dextrose Prolotherapy for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Annals of Family Medicine, doi: 10.1370/afm.1504