What is Prolotherapy?

I have talked a lot about this treatment, but I haven’t really explained what it is. So, let me give you a handy little definition from Wikipedia:

“Prolotherapy, also called proliferation therapy or regenerative injection therapy is an alternative medicine treatment that uses injection of an irritant solution into ligaments or tendon insertion in an effort to relieve pain.”prolotherapy-3d-anatomy

The irritant solution that they use is often just glucose. It’s nothing harmful or out of the ordinary. It isn’t a chemical based solution. Once the solution is injected into the site, the doctor often gives either a local anesthetic or pain medicine to alleviate some of the pain associated with it. The two days after that are incredibly painful as it kick-starts the inflammation process all over again in order to grow new tissue.

As of late, there have been a lot of advocates against the use of anti-inflammatories as a solution to pain or injury because, what we are learning is that inflammation is actually the beginning of the pain process. When someone sprains an ankle, that inflammation is the body’s healing response to the injury. Western medicine has told us our entire lives that this isn’t good and has pushed the consumption of medications such as ibuprofen and the like. As a result, we cancel out the body’s healing process.

So, this is where prolotherapy comes into the equation. A lot of doctors are now supporting this as an alternative to surgery. It is a controversial technique among practitioners of Western medicine, so a lot of doctors brush it off as some hippie dippy stuff. But, there are a lot of people who have given positive feedback that it is actually working. The tissue that regrows; however, has a different composition than that of the original damaged tissue, so, again, there is a lot of debate about how effective this treatment is.

To get rid of the pain, I am willing to try it.


I had this done on the left side of my body today, not on both sides.

Consultation & The Beginning

Around May, I ended my therapy with a doctor who practiced a hybrid Korean/Japanese kind of thing. I am not sure how to describe it other than he used mallets. They looked painful but did not feel so. His last suggestion to me was to stretch every day, and to walk often. Little did I know, this was just a temporary solution. Fast-forward to August, and I began talking about pain in my upper back, primarily around the C6-C7 (cervical/neck vertebrae) region as well as my T1-T2 (thoracic/upper back vertebrae) region. It wasn’t your run of the mill muscle soreness. At times, it felt as if someone was pushing a knife into my shoulder blades and neck. I had also been having issues where I wake up in the middle of the night and both arms are completely asleep. This is still going on. So, I asked my husband if we could call our health insurance provider for a suggestion of a place I could go that would be able to take my private insurance.

Insurance in Korea doesn’t work the same as back in the States. Everyone must enroll in government healthcare. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking about Obama Care, and well, Obama Care, from what I have read is based on the Korean system or this was a source of inspiration. It’s about fifty or sixty bucks a month, which I think is pretty cheap. This covers basic needs. Not to mention, healthcare is so affordable here. I love being able to go to the doctor for ANYTHING and sometimes only paying around two to four dollars for medicine. I have even paid around $315 for an MRI, which was not covered by insurance.

Now, if you want extra coverage, that’s where private insurance comes into play. There are a lot of options, and you can even find someone who speaks English who can set you up with a plan as well as look into various types of cancer insurance. Chiropractic is covered by insurance, but you have to be careful as it can be tricky when you submit all of your receipts for payout. They often do not pay for those diagnosed with chronic pain. We haven’t done that yet and will do so in about a year, when the treatment is finished. (*fingers crossed that we can get a refund through health insurance*) My husband and I are looking at it as a savings plan because I am looking to get 80 to 90% of what I paid back. Quite surprising isn’t it? Healthcare is great here. Even if I go up to Seoul, I’m still only going to pay a fraction of the cost.

I am getting away from the point, but anyways…we get the name of a doctor that is conveniently near one of my schools, and we go in almost before it closes. The doctor isn’t annoyed in the least bit. He’s more than willing to help me. He efficiently diagnoses my condition and gets an x-ray to confirm it. He then lays out the cost of each visit for me and directs me to the head of physical therapy to set up a reoccurring appointment for physical therapy once a week. So, here I will give a basic breakdown of what one visit could cost. Mind you, prolotherapy injections vary in price depending on the location, but I want to give you an idea of just how much money I am saving by doing this.


Consultation Fee: $3.00 (That’s not a typo).

X-Ray: $2.50 (Again, that’s not a typo either).

First Physical Therapy Session (Rolfing Technique): $90.26

UV Light Stimulation: Included in PT cost

Electrical Stimulation Therapy: Included in PT Cost


United States:

Consultation Fee: $150 and up

X-Ray: (Without Insurance) $100 – $1000; (With Insurance) $260 – $460

Physical Therapy (Rolfing Technique): $80 – $120

UV Light Stimulation: $25 – $100

Electrical Stimulation Therapy: $132

So, as you can see, the numbers speak for themselves. Even if you cannot get a working visa here, you could come into Korea on a tourist visa and get three months of care for a huge fraction of the cost that it would be in the United States, even without insurance! Later in the week, I will recount my first injection and what to expect as well as some tib bits on my physical therapy. (It is SUPER PAINFUL but worth it.)

Prolotherapy & Pain

A lot of the things that I am intending to write about are a means of catharsis as well as for information. I started physical therapy and prolotherapy about two months ago, and I have been journaling quite a bit to kind of get through it. The first sentence of my first journal entry isn’t a means of complaining, but it is a way of coping with a silent battle that I have had for probably about 20 years. (Pain) Tonight at the dinner table, though, Steven said something to me that later brought tears to my eyes. He said, “You’re a strong person. You will get through this, and remember that you do have a purpose in life. Tell others about pain and that there is life to be lived in spite of waking up some days and “mak[ing] it work.” So here it goes…

Whoever coined the phrase, “No pain. No gain,” should be punched in the face. No, I am not on a diet (even though I probably should be). No, I haven’t been depriving myself of food or exercising for hours on end (although I have been given that advice here on numerous occasions, but that is for another time and place). I am one of thousands, if not millions. I suffer from chronic pain, more specifically myofascial pain. It is a type of pain that affects the ligaments and connective tissues of the body and is often difficult to diagnose as it is very similar to fibromyalgia. This pain has been ongoing for about twenty years, and, according to my doctor, is something that will continue to get worse as I get older. (But he said it is manageable, and I can do something about helping myself now as opposed to later when it really gets too late.)

Not a day has gone by that I don’t feel some sort of pain, mostly radiating from my neck and shoulder area but not limited to my lower back and hips. I have suffered from debilitating migraines that I used to get once every six months but two years ago started becoming more frequent. Last year, I recall it was every two months and this year started to become once a month. On one occasion, I was hospitalized for a few hours that night.

After some research, I learned that they are cervicogenic headaches and are because of a muscle at the base of the skull. The muscle spasms uncontrollably and often medication has made it hard to manage. Over Chuseok, I lay in bed and had to let it just spasm. The pounding is rather rhythmic and a lot of contemplation concerning life and an existential crisis usually occurs. As they have become more frequent, it takes a toll on the psyche and creates quite a bit of  brain fog.

This is all beside the point of my initial post and making for a rather long post. Future ones will not be as long as this one. To put it bluntly–I effing hurt. After about three years of different types of medical and alternative therapy sought out with the help of my awesome husband and going to countless doctors with an MRI to boot, I think I have found a more permanent solution, and it has been touted in The States as “the alternative to surgery.” (People with bulging discs have even raved about this treatment.) It’s actually working this time, but the treatment length has been prescribed for at least a year or more.

Here’s the rub…providence led me to Korea for so many reasons, and after six years here, one of them is physical healing.  I just want to write about my experiences with this treatment. It is quite painful but in this case, “No pain. No gain” works. The therapy is one-tenth of the cost it would be in The States, and even here it is not cheap. It’s worth the money, though, and I feel like it is saving my life in more than one.

Through my treatment, I want to share my thoughts on pain and the treatment of pain. I am an anti-pain killer and anti-medicine person. I have felt most of my life that we are too anesthetized in America, and I have seen people I know lose themselves to various prescription drugs. So, I have often refused to take any medication unless absolutely necessary. During this treatment, I am terrified of taking anything because I most certainly cannot take anti-inflammatory meds. It cancels out the process of prolotherapy. (I will explain what it is quite soon.)

I have suffered mostly in silence (I feel like I have gotten more vocal about it as it has gotten worse, and I feel like a loser for that.). Now I am talking about it. The brain fog associated with all of this has greatly impacted my relationships, and most people have not been able to understand why I have almost fallen off the face of the planet, especially people on Facebook, a place where it feels like people put too much stock in who says what to you or who doesn’t say anything to you. Some people think, “Look at her. She thinks she is better than people because she lives in Korea.” That is the farthest thing from the truth, but whatever. I used to be so active. I try to be active now as well, but it isn’t the same as before.  I have run in 10 km races thanks to my awesome friend. I was even able to run a half marathon. But as the pain got worse, and I couldn’t explain it, I started seeking answers and trying to correct the issue.

On most days, my three is another person’s 300 on the pain scale. Through this healing process, a weight is being lifted from me, and I feel lighter as my body aligns itself back into the proper place. All of the pain will never completely go away, but this at least helps in managing it.  Other things are going away, but it is also a psychological process as well. It’s not easy. I look to my mom and think though, she had it so much worse. She faced death, and she came out on the other side. My mom is my inspiration. We have passed the two-year anniversary of her double transplant, and she as well as even her own mother never once complained about their pain and how they felt. I wish I could be more like them.

In this process, I am finding out that I really am a strong person. I am not weak. Somewhere I have a purpose in this world. I am going through just like anyone else.