Common Questions about Platelet Rich Plasma

During the last several years, biologic treatments have been emerging in the treatment of orthopaedic injuries and degenerative conditions. Many professional athletes have received treatments, giving a lot of front page press to these new treatments. Although very safe, biological injections can be confusing to patients and “false promises” are often made that this can be the Holy Grail to solve all problems. Let me try and clarify the issues surrounding one such treatment, which we offer, Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP).

What is Platelet Rich Plasma?

Platelets exist in our blood to help with clotting and healing of wounds. Platelets also have an amazingly large amount of proteins in them called growth factors.  These growth factors can aid in tissue healing by signaling other factors to speed up healing.

To make platelet rich plasma, blood drawn from patient’s veins is placed in a centrifuge, which separates out and concentrates the platelets to a much higher level which can then be injected.

How does PRP work?

This is where some controversy exists and many unknowns. In the laboratory we know that platelets can attract a cascade of stem cells, which aid in the healing of tendons and cause an increase in
cartilage growth.

In humans, the research has mixed results so far. PRP can be used to aid in the healing of acute and chronic tendon injuries as well as treating the pain and slowing the process of arthritis.

What conditions can be treated with PRP?

Chronic Tendon Injuries – The most studied of these injuries is tennis elbow. This is a breakdown of the tendons of the outside of the elbow that extends the wrist. Studies have shown up to 80 percent of patients are relieved of pain with only PRP injection. Other tendons that have been proven effective are the Achilles tendon and the patella tendon.

Knee Arthritis – PRP has been very effective in treating the pain of mild to moderate arthritis of the knee. Research has shown that it lasts longer than hyaluronic acid injections, a procedure orthos have been doing for 15 years for relief of pain. Lab studies suggest that multiple PRP injections may halt or slow the progression of arthritis; human studies are still underway to investigate this.

Acute Muscle and Ligament Injury – PRP can recruit other cells with its release of growth factors to aid in the healing of muscle strains, tears and ligament injuries. Although there have been many reports of professional athletes returning to sports earlier than expected from injuries, such as hamstring strains and knee MCL tears, the jury is still out on the actual effectiveness of PRP in these problems.

Because PRP is your own blood, it is safe with minimal risk to patients. Therefore, we often try PRP as a first line treatment in many of these ailments where the body is slow to heal or in some cases ineffective to heal without some kind of help.  To increase the accuracy of our injections we use Ultrasound when injecting tendons, ligament and muscles to ensure PRP hits the intended target.