Active individuals and athletes with acute or chronic orthopedic injuries like tendon damage or osteoarthritis may benefit from a safe, non-surgical treatment called Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy. PRP stimulates the healing process and has been shown to be effective in relieving the pain associated with an injury.
PRP therapy is a rapidly emerging medical technique that involves extracting platelets from an athlete’s own blood and re-injecting them back into the patient at the site of injury. This can take place in the outpatient setting and takes between 30 minutes to an hour to perform.
About 30 milliliters of blood is drawn and then spun for 15 minutes in a centrifuge to separate the platelets from the other blood components. A qualified practitioner will then inject the concentrated platelet-rich plasma back into the site of injury, often using an ultrasound machine for guidance, thereby aiding accuracy and improving the efficacy of the treatment.
Platelets are rich in growth factors says Dr. William Bennett of Bennett Orthopedics and Sportsmedicine. These are proteins or hormones which are essential for repairing injured tissues. They stimulate tendon stem cells and activate mature tendon cells (tenocytes) to quickly multiply. They increase collagen production and enhance tissue blood flow leading to the repair of the injured tendon, muscle, cartilage or ligament. Chronically damaged tendons heal slowly due to their poor blood supply. PRP therapy works by mimicking a new injury and inducing a new healing response in the body.
Any tendon or ligament injury that is not a complete tear may be amenable to PRP therapy. These injuries may include tendon injuries in the arm and shoulder, like rotator cuff tears and tennis elbow, and in the ankle and leg, like the Achilles tendon or damage to the quadriceps or hamstrings. It may also be advocated for osteoarthritis in the hip, knee or shoulder.
Unfortunately, no rigorous scientific trials have been published which demonstrate the effectiveness of PRP therapy. Moreover, there is no agreed standard treatment regimen (in terms of the number of injections or period of time between injections).
This being so, most insurance companies do not fund it. However, there are numerous case reports from around the world and it is being used with increasing regularity in the world of professional sports, including in very high-profile athletes like the golfer Tiger Woods, the basketball star Kobe Bryant, and the baseball player Alex Rodriguez.
The benefits of PRP therapy include speeding recovery and healing from an injury, reducing the risk of injury recurrence and decreasing the chance of the development of a more serious injury. Ultimately PRP therapy negates the need for, and serves as a viable alternative and adjunct to, surgical intervention.
Many problematic chronic injuries, previously deemed untreatable, also respond to PRP therapy.
Immediately following PRP therapy, pain may increase at the affected site for several days. However, this is followed by a gradual improvement in symptoms such as pain and mobility over a period of 2-6 weeks. A period of physical therapy lasting several months is also necessary to help regain previous mobility, strength and function.