Objective: Randomized and open-label studies assessing prolotherapy for knee osteoarthritis have found quantitative improvement on the validated Western Ontario McMaster University Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) compared with baseline status and control therapies. This study assessed the qualitative response of participants receiving prolotherapy, an injection-based complementary treatment for symptomatic knee osteoarthritis (OA).
Design: Qualitative study using semi-structured in-depth interviews at 52 weeks after enrollment; transcribed responses were discussed by coauthors to identify themes; disagreement was resolved by consensus.
Participants: Twenty-two participants treated with prolotherapy for symptomatic knee OA who were exited from three randomized and open-label studies.
Interventions: Intra- and extra-articular hypertonic dextrose injection (prolotherapy).
Main outcome measures: Patient narrative and composite WOMAC questionnaire (0-100 points) scores.
Results: Participants had baseline demographic and knee OA severity similar to those of participants in three prior intervention trials, as well as similar robust follow-up WOMAC score change (19.9 ± 12.6 points), suggesting a representative subsample. Seven themes were identified from participant narratives: (1) improvement in knee-specific quality of life (n = 18), (2) safety and comfort, (3) pretreatment counseling enhanced treatment adherence and optimism, (4) overall positive experience with prolotherapy, (5) limited response to prolotherapy (n = 4), (6) consistency with anecdotal clinical prolotherapy experience; and (7) functional improvement without pain reduction.
Conclusions: Most participants reported substantially improved knee-specific effects, resulting in improved quality of life and activities of daily living; four participants reported minimal or no effect. Clear, complete description of procedural rationale may enhance optimism about and adherence to treatment appointments.
Keywords: dextrose injection; knee osteoarthritis; prolotherapy; qualitative study; regenerative medicine.