Feature Archive

Injecting Relief

New treatment for aches.

WebMD Feature

Oct. 2, 2000 -- Aching knees were keeping 64-year-old Mickey Irgang off the racquetball courts, but he balked at arthroscopic surgery -- especially the six-month recovery period. Instead, at the recommendation of a friend, the Hollywood, Fla., importer flew to Chicago for a little-known treatment with a peculiar name: prolotherapy. There, a doctor thrust a needle into Irgang's problem joint and injected a solution that was designed to actually inflame it.

Almost immediately after the injections, the pain that had troubled Irgang for nearly a decade began to abate. "I was off the table in three or four hours, and I started to feel relief," he says.

After a follow-up treatment on his left knee, Irgang, 64, now plays racquetball, works out three times a week, and can manage squats again. "I used to hear a lot of clinking and cracking from my knees, but I don't any more. Maybe my hearing's going, but I think it was the treatment."

More and more patients are seeking this treatment, also known as sclerotherapy, which is practiced by several hundred doctors in the United States. Proponents call it a cheap, safe, and effective option for a wide range of conditions, including back pain, osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, tennis elbow, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, and tendinitis.

Typically, the mixture injected includes a smidgen of local anesthetic, dextrose (a sugar derived from corn), and Sarapin, a nerve-soothing extract from the pitcher plant. The number of injections per session ranges from one to more than 100, and some patients may require sedation to weather the pain. No less prominent a figure than former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop says that prolotherapy banished his intractable low back pain. In fact, he was so taken with the technique that he learned it himself and has used it on patients.