It has been more than a dozen years since I first found myself in Dr. Michael Bertram’s office. I honestly don’t know what would have happened to me had that visit not have occurred. For five or six years prior, I was living with daily and constant, chronic pain from a sacroiliac joint injury (the largest joint in your body at the base of your spine, connecting to your pelvis). Traditional orthopeodic medicine was not helping. Physical therapy did not help. Ultimately it was suggested that I explore a non-traditional, interventional treatment called prolotherapy. Also known as regenerative injection therapy, prolotherapy involves injecting an irritant (a dextrose solution) into damaged joints to stimulate an inflammatory or healing response which encourages tissue growth, ultimately strengthening the affected area.
I feel compelled to write about it because so many people are unfamiliar with the treatment, and people need to know. Thanks to Dr. Bertram and prolotherapy, I have been able to get back to normal living again…which for me is working and leading an active lifestyle with lots of exercise. He treated my knees three years ago when they began bothering me, and I had been pain free in my knees since. I did just recently go back for an additional treatment for some minor discomfort (when I overexert myself mostly in exercise), but more for maintaining my health.
With my blog being about sharing diverse people’s passion and pursuits, I wanted to learn more of the driving force behind this doctor for whom I am so grateful.
Dr. Bertram’s story, in his own words:
I am always trying to find better treatments because I know what it is like to experience life changing pain and the resulting depression as a result of a trauma. I was 19 when I had a back injury. I used to play sports every night and do physical labor, and had to quit all of that. I would hide when my friends were moving because I could not help them. The MRI showed I had three herniated discs, among other things. I could have been on high level narcotics and still be struggling but today I am building retaining walls, doing yard work and basically leading a normal life. I want to help other people get back to doing what they want to do too. That’s really what drives me.
I was studying engineering in college before this and then decided that being a physician was what I wanted to do.
I learned about prolotherapy by accident. Like so many others, I had done lots of therapies and was referred to multiple doctors. I was even referred to a psychiatrist when it was thought my pain was mental. It was while I was doing a pain fellowship after medical school and my residency training that I just happened to be there when a patient came in and requested of another doctor an alternative treatment because traditional treatments were not working. It was something I had never heard of until then, prolotherapy. I asked if I could watch.
I went online that same day to learn what I could and found a conference/workshop occurring within that month. Of course I wanted to go. It was at that conference where doctors did prolotherapy on my back, and several months later, I was without any pain. I tried to stir things up but activities didn’t bother it. I was shocked and determined. I went back to take another course a year later and got a second treatment. I have had a couple spells since then but they go away.
I went on a medical mission trip to Honduras to learn from well respected doctors who have been practicing prolotherapy for a long time. We treated hundreds of patients, all free to them. That kind of learning would not be possible in the United States. People in Honduras who do heavy labor work would travel from far distances, from the mountains and the deserts, knowing they would be coming to get painful injections because those injections allowed them to get back to what they wanted to do. They were bringing their friends and families to get better.
I learned so much from that mission trip, not just about improving my techniques but also about how to be a better doctor. Those doctors who were our instructors spent two weeks without pay away from their clinics to help me and others be better. They are my role models.
For me, my greatest satisfaction from doing prolotherapy is the smiles I see on people’s faces. With other treatments, I may get people feeling better but I don’t see the kinds of life changing improvement that I do with prolotherapy. It is the only time that I get hugs from patients. When someone has been in pain for ten years and they suddenly get such a significant part of their life back, that is how they express themselves sometimes. I smile back. I’ve got to be honest, there are times when I am shocked by how well it works.
Dr. Bertram is with St. Elizabeth Physicians, temporarily located in Kenwood. His specialty is physiatry, subspecializing in nonsurgical orthopedic regenerative and intervention medicine. You can reach him at 513-370-5140.