Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)

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, Rafael Nadal, Kobe Bryant 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.

Dr. Wilson is the only physician in the area offering PRP injections and is able to do the procedure in his office.

What Is Platelet-rich Plasma (PRP)?

Although blood is mainly a liquid called plasma, the platelets in blood contain over 1,500 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. 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?

Although it is not exactly clear how PRP works, 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:

  1. PRP injection – 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.
  2. PRP in surgery - 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. 

What Conditions are Treated with PRP? 

Research studies are currently being conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of PRP treatment. At this time, the results of these studies are inconclusive because the effectiveness of PRP therapy can vary.  Some studies show great promise and excellent while some others show little improvement.

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.

The use of PRP for other chronic tendon injuries — such as chronic Achilles tendonitis or inflammation of the patellar tendon at the knee (jumper's knee) is promising. However, it is difficult to say at this time that PRP therapy is any more effective than traditional treatment of these problems.

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.

Surgery

More recently, PRP has been used during certain types of surgery to help tissues heal. It was first thought to be beneficial in shoulder surgery to repair torn rotator cuff tendons.

Surgery to repair torn knee ligaments, especially the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is another area where PRP has been applied.

Knee Arthritis

Some initial research is being done to evaluate the effectiveness of PRP in the treatment of the arthritic knee. It is still too soon to determine if this form of treatment will be any more effective than current treatment methods.

Conclusion

Treatment with platelet-rich plasma holds great promise.  While the literature on the success of PRP therapy is still up in the air, the risks associated with it are minimal.  There may be increased pain at the injection site, but the incidence of other problems — infection, tissue damage, nerve injuries — appears to be no different from that associated with cortisone injections.

In light of the great potential and relatively low risk, PRP injections are a good option in certain patients and may allow healing and decreased pain without the risks associated with surgery.

Dr. Wilson is currently offering PRP injections in his office.  Contact him today if you would like to see if you are a candidate.