Both professional athletes and active amateurs are benefitting from a revolutionary therapy that utilizes the person’s own blood to repair and rebuild damaged cartilage or tendon. Platelet-rich plasma therapy, or PRP therapy as it is commonly called, is offering hope to thousands of people enduring intractable pain and below par performance as a result of sports injuries. This relatively safe non-surgical procedure not only relieves chronic pain but also jumpstarts the healing process.
Because PRP therapy is approved as legal and valid by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), several elite athletes such as high-profile golfer Tiger Woods, figure skater Kaetyln Osmond, basketball star Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Takashi Saito, footballers Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and tennis players Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova have used PRP therapy at some point during their careers.
Platelets are microscopic, disc-shaped, colorless blood cells that bind together to form a blood clot. Simply put, when a blood vessel gets injured, platelets stop us from bleeding. Platelets are the body’s first response to injury. There are normally 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microliter of blood. Plasma is the straw-colored liquid portion of blood minus its cellular components. Thus, platelet-rich plasma is blood plasma that has been fortified with autologous (the person’s own) platelets.
Platelets are a natural reservoir of growth factors that aid tissue recovery by increasing collagen production, augmenting stem cell proliferation, and stimulating blood flow. Platelets also have known anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Injured cartilage, tendons, ligaments and muscles are repaired, regenerated, rebuilt and made more resilient. Concentrated platelet-rich plasma with its rich pool of platelet-derived growth and healing factors is, thus, valuable in tissue regeneration and accelerated healing.
The procedure itself is done on an outpatient basis and typically takes less than an hour to perform. About 30 mL of a patient’s blood is withdrawn and spun in a centrifuge to separate the platelets from other components of whole blood. These concentrated platelets are then injected at the site of injury under ultrasound guidance for accurate placement.
PRP therapy is not limited to sports injuries alone. It has widespread applications across a gamut of medical conditions. This next-generation treatment is used to relieve pain from osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, or shoulder, repair tendons damaged by chronic tendonitis of the elbow or ankle, treat corneal ulcers in the eye, rejuvenate thinning hair and promote hair growth, heal bones after a spinal injury, and repair tissue following plastic surgery.
PRP therapy is gaining popularity because it does not carry the risks of general anesthesia. It is less invasive and less expensive than surgery. No hospital stay is required and there is no prolonged recovery period. The risk of allergic reactions is low. There is no risk of transmitted infections because the patient’s own blood is used. The therapy produces lasting results as it works through a healing process. Unlike pain-relieving cortisone injections, PRP therapy does not lead to further degeneration of tissues.
PRP therapy is typically administered as a series of one to three injections. The treatments are not covered by insurance and cost in the range of $800 per shot. The recovery period varies from 48 hours to 2 weeks depending on the body part treated. Patients may be advised to engage in a physical therapy program for several weeks following PRP therapy. People with known malignancies, infections, and medical conditions such as cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s disease are not candidates for the therapy, as are people on large doses of blood thinning medications.
PRP therapy is revolutionizing noninvasive sports medicine, and its wide application in other areas of medicine is promising. However, there is an urgent need for the standardization of PRP preparations to provide conclusive evidence of the therapy’s clinical efficacy and reproducibility.
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