Platelet Rich Plasma therapy (PRP) is a ground breaking non-operative treatment option that relieves pain by naturally promoting long lasting healing of musculoskeletal conditions. The acronym "PRP" has most recently been featured in the news with the rising popularity of the treatment among professional athletes, recreational athletes, and highly functional individuals. Many have attributed Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections, particularly for athletic injuries, with enabling them to return back to regular activities and competition with minimal to no pain at all. This rapidly emerging technique shows very promising potential for many conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis, and ligament sprains and tears.
Blood is primarily composed of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets carried by a liquid called plasma. The primary responsibility of platelets is to help blood to clot. Platelets also contain several important proteins including growth factors which can help to promote tissue healing and cytokines which signal different cellular functions.
Platelet rich plasma (PRP) is made by taking a sample of the patient’s blood and spinning it in a centrifuge. This separates the platelets from other blood cells. When combined with plasma, the PRP mixture that results has a five to ten-fold increased concentration of platelets. The process can be done in the office setting and takes approximately 10-15 minutes. The PRP can then be injected back into the body at various sites. The theory is that this high concentration of growth factors and other chemicals can contribute to tissue healing and subsequent pain relief. Here are the reasons for its good and bad effects:
Scientists and clinicians are still learning what conditions PRP can be used to treat. At this time, there have been mixed results. Some studies show that PRP is helpful, and others demonstrate no improvement when compared with placebo. Even though studies are inconclusive, there is a growing market and interest in using PRP injections to treat muscle, tendon and joint pain.
Some of the successful applications of PRP injections have been in treating damage to tendons such as lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinosis. There have been some studies examining the use of PRP for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee.
There appear to be few complications from injections of PRP. Like all injections, patients may experience injection site pain and a low risk of infection. While there is some concern for injecting high concentrations of any chemical – including growth factors and cytokines – PRP injections appear to be reasonably well tolerated.
Perhaps the biggest downside to PRP injections is the cost. Most of these injections are not covered by insurance, and the cost of a single injection can be up to $1,000. With the inconsistent results that have been demonstrated to date, most surgeons and medical societies have not recommended PRP as part of the routine care.