With some injuries, nothing seems to help. You rest. You try rehab and physical therapy. You take medication. Still, you’re dealing with the pain, and you feel like you’re losing time. You want to get back on the field or into your workout routine. Maybe you’ve seen accounts of professional athletes seeking platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment, and you’re wondering if it could work for you.
What is platelet-rich plasma?
PRP is a biologic product that’s made from your own blood. Plasma is the liquid part of your blood, which is mostly salts, vitamins, and water. Platelets are small cells in your blood. They help your blood clot, and they contain important growth factors that promote healing.
How does platelet-rich plasma treatment work?
PRP activates your body’s natural healing processes. You can get a PRP treatment in your doctor’s office. First, your doctor draws about four tablespoons of blood and spins it in a centrifuge to separate the plasma and platelets from the red and white blood cells.
“This process concentrates the amount of platelets to about three to 10 times more than the concentration of platelets in whole blood,” said Abigail Hamilton, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Banner – University Medicine Orthopedics Clinic in Tucson, AZ.
Then, your doctor injects the PRP at the site of your injury, using ultrasound imaging to find the precise location. The injected platelets have many different effects, and two of those effects are especially important for athletes who are trying to heal:
- They release natural growth factors that promote healing
- They release chemicals called cytokines that encourage wound-healing cells in other parts of your body to come help heal the injured area
“This helps increase the rate of healing in tissues that can frequently otherwise be slow to heal,” Dr. Hamilton said.
Because PRP encourages your body to heal itself, results can take time. Dr. Hamilton said that this differs from injected medications that may only mask pain as opposed to promote healing, therefore after a PRP injection, full improvement sometimes takes up to six to eight weeks. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a series of two or three injections for better results.
After a PRP treatment, you may notice pain at the injection site for a few days. However, PRP has a very low risk of local infection and because PRP is made from your own blood, other side effects are rare.
What conditions can be treated with platelet-rich plasma?
PRP can treat a variety of musculoskeletal injuries and problems:
- chronic tendon injuries or partial tears
- ligament sprains
- pain from tendinitis or inflammation
- joint-surface cartilage injuries
Research on the effectiveness of PRP is ongoing, and the list of treatable injuries and conditions may change. “To find out if PRP may be appropriate in your treatment, it’s best to discuss it further with your physician,” Dr. Hamilton said.
When is it time to consider platelet-rich plasma?
In most cases, you’ll want to try traditional methods like immobilization, rehabilitation, and anti-inflammatory medication first. For osteoarthritis, you may also want to consider corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid injections.
PRP isn’t typically used alone. It is usually part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes rest and physical therapy.
How do I know if platelet-rich plasma is right for me?
PRP can bring relief from musculoskeletal pain to a lot of people, but it’s not the best choice for everyone. If you have certain underlying medical conditions or take medication that affects your platelet function, it might not be a good choice for you.
You may also want to contact your medical insurance provider to see whether PRP is a covered benefit.
If you’re suffering from joint pain, the experts at Banner Health can help. For a referral to an orthopedic specialist, visit bannerhealth.com.
For more coverage of sports and injuries, take a look at these articles:
- 4 Reasons You Should See a Physical Therapist
- How to Avoid Strains and Sprains
- Six Things to Consider Before Returning to Youth Sports