Over the past decade, platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections have become famous. This is mainly because professional athletes have used them to more quickly and efficiently heal from sports-related injuries. In the past few years, their growing popularity has shown that PRP injections could also be a great alternative treatment option for the average active person. PRP injections not only have the potential to relieve pain, but they have been shown to accelerate the healing process. While the current research is limited, the potential of this treatment has been documented in some studies. Most treatments cannot fully return an active person back to their lifestyle, so it is no wonder so many look to innovative treatments like PRP injections to fill this need.
What is platelet rich plasma and how is it used in PRP injections?
Blood is mainly a liquid, known as plasma, that also contains solid components including platelets, red cells, and white cells. Platelets are an important agent in the clotting of blood, but also contain numerous proteins that are crucial in the healing process known as growth factors. These proteins excel in healing injuries as well as promoting the growth of tissue.
PRP is plasma that has a high concentration of platelets when compared to the baseline levels of plasma. In fact, this concentration can be as much as five to ten times greater than average levels. Platelet rich plasma is created using a portion of a patient’s own blood. It is used to promote healing in a variety of different components of the body. Some of the areas include injured muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments.
How does PRP therapy work?
PRP injections sound complex, but the process is relatively simple. It is minimally-invasive, uses local anesthesia, and is considered an outpatient procedure. The process usually takes one to two hours from start to finish and has the potential to avoid more serious treatments such as surgery.
First, approximately 30 milliliters of the patients’ blood is drawn. Then, this blood is placed in a machine called a centrifuge, which uses centrifugal force to separate the platelets from the rest of the blood. Oftentimes extra compounds such as calcium and thrombin are added to help release the growth factors. A medical professional then takes the concentrated platelets concoction and injects it into the site of the injury. An ultrasound machine is often used to make sure the needle is inserted into the correct location.
Effectiveness of PRP therapy
The effectiveness of this treatment is highly dependent on the patient. Some people only require a single injection to see positive results. Others may need several injections over a period of time for any benefit. This decision is made by the doctor overseeing the process and is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Pain usually increases directly after the injection and then slowly decreases over time, generally this discomfort only lasts a few days. Resting for a 24-hour period of the injection is highly recommended. Most people can return to their normal activity level after this rest period. After the initial few days, a gradual improvement will occur for the next month or so and some patients even say that these benefits are present up to six to nine months later.
PRP injections have shown some promising results, although they are still not well-understood. Studies and doctors continue to refine the treatment protocols associated with this therapy, but so far, it has proven to perform extremely well in certain cases such as chronic tendon injuries.
The science behind PRP injections
PRP therapy is a relatively new treatment and there has only been minimal research done on its efficacy. Furthermore, there is currently no standardized treatment regimen, so it is left to the discretion of each individual physician to administer this therapy. Most of the hype surrounding this intervention is based on anecdotal evidence rather than rigorous testing as well.
Given this, many are still skeptical on whether this treatment is actually effective or if the placebo effect is producing the increased rate in healing. However, there are some recent studies that have shown some positive results for PRP injections.
In a systematic review of available literature for platelet rich plasma therapy, it was found that PRP injections were favored over a placebo injection. The effectiveness was measured around the six-month mark for the treatment of adults who had mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis. However, the study did show that there was an increase in adverse effects for the patients who received the PRP injections versus those who received the placebo.
In a pilot study that came out earlier this year, a team of researchers from the University of Alberta were able to report improvement in pain and mobility as well as in the tissue itself. Using magnetic resonance imaging before and after PRP injections, the team was able to observe structural changes and a decrease in the size of tears. While this study was small in size, only nine participants, the results were clinically relevant and provide an excellent planning tool for larger clinical trials.
Doug Gross, interim chair of physical therapy at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, stated that:
“Based on MRI findings before and after the injections, we saw improvements in the tissue six months later in five of seven patients undergoing PRP and an appropriate rehabilitation program. The healing in the tissue appeared to correspond with the reported improvement of the pain and also with the clinical assessment of function.”
PRP injections are considered cutting-edge for a reason. The evidence to support PRP injections is not conclusive and has not yet been scientifically validated. There is promise that this therapy option could eventually lead to new treatment options for those with chronic conditions, but more research is required. As with all medical procedures, it is best to consult with your doctor before trying PRP injections.
What do you think about PRP injections?