But the jury is still out on whether the treatment has consistent benefits, according to Dr. Ricardo Cruciani, an anesthesiologist at Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City.
He pointed out that, in a handful of studies, about half have shown that patients benefit from the treatments, while the other half showed no benefit in either pain or quality of life. Cruciani said more research is necessary for prolotherapy to become a mainstream pain relief technique.
While most doctors do not deny that prolotherapy can work for some patients, unless it receives a tried-and-tested seal of approval, the treatment is unlikely to gain wide use, much less insurance coverage.
Michael P. Sullivan, a spokesman for CareFirst, Blue Cross Blue Shield, said prolotherapy is generally not covered because it is considered experimental. He cited that, among other criteria, a treatment requires conclusive scientific evidence and appropriate government approval before it can be considered for coverage.
Thus far, prolotherapy has been practiced more widely than it has been clinically studied. Dr. Ronald Glick is the principle investigator of an NIH-funded study on prolotherapy to determine if it is the liquid irritant, the pressure from the fluid, or simply the deep needle insertion that promotes healing.
"It is up to the academic community to study this and support that it works," said Glick, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "We are trying to pin down, What really is prolotherapy?"