During the past several years, much has been written about a preparation called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and its potential effectiveness in the treatment of injuries.
Many famous athletes — Tiger Woods, tennis star Rafael Nadal, and several others — have received PRP for various problems, such as sprained knees and chronic tendon injuries. These types of conditions have typically been treated with medications, physical therapy, or even surgery. Some athletes have credited PRP with their being able to return more quickly to competition.
Even though PRP has received extensive publicity, there are still lingering questions about it, such as:
• What exactly is platelet-rich plasma?
• How does it work?
• What conditions are being treated with PRP?
• Is PRP treatment effective?
What Is Platelet-rich Plasma (PRP)?
Although blood is mainly a liquid (called plasma), it also contains small solid components (red cells, white cells, and platelets.) The platelets are best known for their importance in clotting blood. However, platelets also contain hundreds of proteins called growth factors which are very important in the healing of injuries.
PRP is plasma with many more platelets than what is typically found in blood. The concentration of platelets — and, thereby, the concentration of growth factors — can be 5 to 10 times greater (or richer) than usual.
To develop a PRP preparation, blood must first be drawn from a patient. The platelets are separated from other blood cells and their concentration is increased during a process called centrifugation. Then the increased concentration of platelets is combined with the remaining blood.
How Does PRP Work?
Laboratory studies have shown that the increased concentration of growth factors in PRP can potentially speed up the healing process.
To speed healing, the injury site is treated with the PRP preparation. This can be done in one of two ways:
• PRP can be carefully injected into the injured area. For example, in Achilles tendonitis, a condition commonly seen in runners and tennis players, the heel cord can become swollen, inflamed, and painful. A mixture of PRP and local anesthetic can be injected directly into this inflamed tissue. Afterwards, the pain at the area of injection may actually increase for the first week or two, and it may be several weeks before the patient feels a beneficial effect.
• PRP may also be used to improve healing after surgery for some injuries. For example, an athlete with a completely torn heel cord may require surgery to repair the tendon. Healing of the torn tendon can possibly be improved by treating the injured area with PRP during surgery. This is done by preparing the PRP in a special way that allows it to actually be stitched into torn tissues.
What Conditions are Treated with PRP? Is It Effective?
Research studies are currently being conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of PRP treatment. At this time, the results of these studies are very encouraging. because the effectiveness of PRP therapy can vary. Areas that PRP has been shown effective include:
Chronic Tendon Injuries:
According to the research studies currently reported, PRP is most effective in the treatment of chronic tendon injuries, especially tennis elbow, a very common injury of the tendons on the outside of the elbow.
Acute Ligament and Muscle Injuries:
Much of the publicity PRP therapy has received has been about the treatment of acute sports injuries, such as ligament and muscle injuries. PRP has been used to treat professional athletes with common sports injuries like pulled hamstring muscles in the thigh and knee sprains.
One of the most exciting uses of PRP is on the treatment of spine related problems. Conditions like degenerative disc disease, disc herniations and sciatica. Many of these conditions are now being treated with a simple PRP injection avoiding more invasive surgical options.
One of the newest uses of PRP is in the area of cosmetics. This includes PRP for wrinkle reduction, skin rejuvenation and scar reduction. This is now one of the fastest growing uses of PRP because its natural origins and rapid ability to improve skin tone and texture. All without fillers or dangerous chemicals.
PRP treatment holds the promise of a cure for a number of musculoskeletal problems for millions of patients. Tennis elbow, knee arthritis and meniscus injuries, rotator cuff problems, degenerative or herniated spinal discs and many many more. The future is in many ways limitless and the risks associated with it are minimal: While the may be increased pain at the injection site, but the incidence of other problems that can occur with surgery, like infection, tissue damage, nerve injuries appears to be minimal. In summary we have a natural treatment with the power to repair damaged tissue and all with very little risk. This is the type of treatment that we have all been waiting for.