If you’re familiar with the term platelet rich plasma (PRP), it’s likely because of its well-publicized cosmetic applications—from smoothing wrinkles to stimulating hair regrowth. Beyond beauty, though, PRP is increasingly being used for more structural applications in tendons, ligaments, muscles and joints.
Here’s how it works. PRP harnesses the body’s own healing properties to amplify the natural repair and growth factors to help effectively address some soft tissue injuries without surgery or medication injections that may offer only short-term relief. That’s one of the reason athletes from Peyton Manning to Tiger Woods have turned to the therapy, and why I often recommend it for many of my patients, especially those who live an active lifestyle.
How does platelet rich plasma therapy work?
PRP is a highly personalized therapy that uses the patient’s own blood as the basis for healing. Blood is made up of many different types of cell materials. Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood that allows red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets to circulate throughout the body through blood vessels to do their job. It also contains proteins called growth factors that your body uses to heal tissue.
For a treatment so advanced, creating and delivering PRP is actually fairly simple and is usually done in the doctor’s office:
- The patient has a sample of blood drawn into a vial.
- The blood is taken to a laboratory where it is placed in a centrifuge, a machine that rapidly spins the blood.
- The centrifuge separates the blood into its different parts, including platelets essential to rebuilding damaged tissue.
- The platelets are then drawn into a syringe and injected at the site of the injured tissue of the patient, typically using ultrasound technology to determine exact placement.
Injecting platelets into the injured tissue releases growth factors and increases the number of repair cells the body produces to promote a healing response.
What conditions can be treated with platelet rich plasma?
From sudden injuries to orthopedic tissue worn out over the course of a lifetime, PRP can be used to address a wide range of problems, including:
- Chronic tendon injuries: partial tendon tears and various types of tendonitis, including plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, patellar tendonitis, rotator cuff tendonitis and tennis elbow among others
- Acute (sudden) ligament and muscle injuries
- Mild to moderate osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, and shoulder
- Certain tears in cartilage (labral tears) of the shoulder and hip
Unlike medication injections sometimes used to treat these injuries, PRP typically doesn’t “wear off” after a certain amount of time. In fact, it may even take a few weeks for you to begin experiencing the benefits of PRP, which tend to grow stronger as the injured tissue is repaired. While a PRP booster injection may be needed after a year or more, you will not have to rely as much on pain medications. PRP also allows some patients to delay or avoid a surgical procedure and all that it entails.
Signs that PRP therapy may be right for you
One of the great things about PRP is that it can be used to safely (and non-invasively) address a wide range of orthopedic conditions and help people move better. In addition, many health plans cover the cost of PRP therapy, but you should check with your insurance provider to confirm.
PRP is most often used for people who:
- have pain with daily activities.
- are still experiencing pain after trying conservative measures such as home rehabilitation, corticosteroid injections or physical therapy.
- have previously found relief with steroid injections but the relief did not last for as long as hoped.
- have completed a physical therapy or home rehabilitation program to strengthen muscles around a joint and have had suboptimal results.
- have not been able to find adequate relief after trying over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen.
Though it is not a cure-all, PRP is among the most exciting recent advances in the treatment of the common orthopedic injuries that impact everyone from elite athletes, to weekend warriors, to aging adults. If you’re dealing with an injury or pain, find an orthopedic specialist today to talk about whether platelet rich plasma therapy can help.