Tendons and ligaments, the connective tissue between our muscles and bones, enable us to do everything from walking to playing tennis. Unfortunately, the collagen fibers that make up these tissues can become damaged due to sprains, strains, and repetitive motion. And these fibers don’t heal easily, partly because tendons and ligaments have poor blood supply. That’s where Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy comes in to improve the healing process.
What does PRP Mean?
PRP stands for Platelet Rich Plasma, which is blood plasma that has concentrated platelets. These are called the body’s repairmen for damaged tissues because the platelets in PRP contain a high level of bioactive proteins, which jumpstart the healing process for connective tissues and wounds, as well as bone regeneration and repair and the development of new blood vessels.
What Makes PRP Therapy Effective?
As a specialized type of blood cell, platelets constitute 6% of your blood supply. The majority – 93% -- consists of red cells (RBCs), while white blood cells (WBCs) and plasma are the remainders of your blood.
Platelets play an important role in helping your blood to clot when you have a cut. Rich in connective tissue growth factors, they also promote healing when you’re injured. We can enhance the body’s own healing by injecting these growth factors into damaged tendons, joints, and ligaments. The key is to concentrate the platelets so that they’re at their most effective.
What Is the Process?
The first step of PRP therapy involves a small blood draw. The sample is put into a centrifuge, which produces the PRP that will improve the concentration of growth factors and platelets by up to 500%. The doctor will then inject it into the center of the injured area with the assistance of ultrasound guidance. This helps keep track of the position of the instrument and shows the doctor the exact location of the injury’s center.
You should expect the entire process to last about 40 minutes.
Why Is PRP Therapy Better Than Cortisone Shots?
Cortisone injections could have a detrimental effect on connective tissues, according to clinical studies. While these injections offer short-term pain relief and reduce inflammation, they can be administered only a few times in the same area due to their weakening properties. On the other hand, PRP therapy works to heal the damaged tissue and to strengthen the tendons and ligaments. Studies have shown that PRP-treated tendons thicken tendons by as much as 40%.
What Is the Treatment Schedule?
Your doctor will want to see you for a follow-up visit six to eight weeks after your first treatment. You may not need another injection, but some patients require up to three treatments. Your doctor will monitor your healing progress to determine how many injections will work best for you.
What Conditions Can PRP Therapy Help?
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Ankle sprains
- Tennis and golfer’s elbow
- Shoulder pain and instability
- Hamstring and hip strains
- Knee sprains and instability
- Patellofemoral syndrome and patellar tendinosis
- Achilles tendinosis and plantar fasciitis
- Knee, hip, and other joint osteoarthritis
- Other chronic tendon and ligament problems
Plus, PRP therapy has helped relieve pain and reduce disability suffered by patients with the “wear and tear” type of osteoarthritis because it can stimulate repair of arthritic and roughened cartilage. Knee, hip joint and other joint arthritis are prime candidates for PRP therapy.
Will My Insurance Cover My PRP Treatments?
More than likely, your insurance will not pay for this type of therapy.
Will I Feel Pain from PRP Injections?
Most patients will feel mild or moderate discomfort from the injections because the treated area is numbed first with lidocaine. However, after the lidocaine has worn off, the patient may have moderate pain for a few days. Your doctor will tell you what medication you can take to reduce the pain. You might receive a prescription, but you can also take over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as Motrin, Aleve, and ibuprofen are not on the approved list because they will negatively affect the healing process.
What Are the Risks with PRP Therapy?
The potential side effects from PRP therapy are minimal but there are always risks involved when a needle is inserted into the body. While very rare, an injection could cause infection, bleeding, or nerve damage. Your doctor will discuss with you any additional possible complications with you before your first treatment. An allergic reaction is one risk that does not exist with PRP therapy because you are receiving your own blood.
How Successful Is PRP Therapy?
Based on studies, the rate of improvement ranges from 80 to 85%, with some patients reporting a full recovery or complete pain relief. In general, the results of PRP therapy are permanent.
What Are Additional Effective Therapies?
Your doctor will develop a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan to maximize your recovery and the development of your new connective tissues, which will turn into strong tendon or ligament fibers. These additional therapies may include nutraceuticals, exercise, nutrition, and hormone balancing.