Those suffering from pain due to chronic tendon injuries and osteoarthritis know how debilitating and uncomfortable the pain can be. Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) treatments have been getting increasingly more attention as an alternative treatment for chronic tendon or ligament injuries, as well as osteoarthritis pain. Attention has been spurred by high profile athletes such as Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal, Alex Rodriguez, and many others who have received these injections. With relatively low risk (similar to that of steroid injections), PRP injections have become an increasing popular treatment for conditions such as tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, as well as early osteoarthritis of the shoulder, knees, and hips.
How does PRP work?
PRP harnesses the body’s own healing ability by concentrating cells in the blood that accelerate healing in the event of an injury. Blood contains many components including red cells, white cells, and platelets. In an injury, platelets and growth factors found in the blood rush to the site of injury and start a healing cascade. We have all witnessed the miracle of healing on our own bodies, where scrapes and cuts on our bodies disappear and often times leave no evidence of any injury. PRP concentrates the platelets and growth factors that our bodies use to heal injuries 5 to 10 times the amount normally found in our blood. By using a centrifuge to separate the blood components, platelets and growth factors are extracted from blood and used for the PRP injection.
What conditions does it treat?
PRP has been used to treat ligament and tendon injuries as well as osteoarthritis of the joints. Ligament and tendon injuries such as Achilles tendinitis, pulled hamstring, golfer’s elbow, or tennis elbow can often take a long time to heal, and may become chronic conditions if proper rest and healing time is not allowed. PRP shows promise of accelerating this healing process, and shortening the duration of pain and allowing a faster return to normal activity. Hence, many professional athletes have used PRP for these types of injuries. Further, there is evidence that PRP may also be effective for reducing pain and halting the rate of cartilage destruction normally seen with osteoarthritis. PRP has been used to treat shoulder, hip, knee osteoarthritis pain, as well as back pain stemming from the facet or sacroiliac joints. We are in the early stages of research on this area, and more research is still needed, but PRP is very promising in helping to harness our own body’s ability to heal.
How are PRP injections done?
PRP is performed by collecting 30-50 ml of patient’s blood. This blood is then placed in a centrifuge, after which the platelets and growth factors are extracted into a 5-10 ml syringe. Ultrasound is then used to guide the needle placement into the location of the injured area. This solution, containing 5-10 times the concentration of platelets and growth factors is then injected into the injured area.
How long does it take to work?
A slight increase in pain may be noted for several days after the injection, but over the next 2-6 weeks, gradual improvement will be noted. Depending on the extent of the injury, PRP injections may need to be repeated, but this is evaluated on a case by case basis.
PRP is a treatment offering great promise for patients suffering from ligament or tendon injuries as well as early osteoarthritis. The relatively low risk of these injections as well as the promise of improved healing, decreased pain, and in some cases the delay or avoidance of surgery is very attractive to many. Most insurance carriers are still not covering this injection as more research is needed, however, for those suffering from chronic conditions, PRP has offered hope and relief to many.