During the past few years, there has been a lot of hype around PRP (platelet-rich plasma) and its efficiency in treating injuries. Famous athletes, including Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal, have received platelet-rich plasma for various injuries, such as chronic tendon injuries and sprained knees. Even though such conditions are typically treated with therapy, medication, or even surgery, some athletes have stated that PRP was responsible for them being able to return to competition faster.
But what is PRP?
Although it is mainly a liquid (plasma), blood also contains very small solid elements (white cells, red cells, platelets). Platelets have a very important role in clotting blood and contain numerous proteins (growth factors) that play a huge part in healing injuries. As the name suggests, PRP is plasma that contains considerably (five to ten times) more platelets than what blood typically has.
In order to develop the suitable mix for each patient, the doctor must first draw blood from the patient. Once the blood is extracted, the platelets are separated from the other blood cells and undergo a centrifugation process through which their concentration is increased. The resulted increased concentration of platelets will be combined with the rest of the blood.
How does platelet-rich plasma work?
To speed up the healing process, the PRP preparation will be applied to the injury site, using one of the following methods:
- Platelet-rich plasma can be injected directly into the affected area, along with a local anesthetic. The pain may increase for a week or two, after which the patient will feel significant relief.
- PRP can also be used to speed up healing after some surgical procedures, such as a torn heel for example. For this, the platelet-rich plasma must be prepared in a special way, to allow it to actually be stitched into the torn tissues.
Is PRP effective?
Research is still being conducted to assess the effectiveness of platelet-rich plasma treatment. Even though they are still inconclusive, data shows that the factors that may influence PRP’s effectiveness include:
- Whether the injury is chronic or acute
- The patient’s overall health
- The area that needs treatment
Conditions that can be treated with Platelet-rich plasma
- Chronic tendon injuries: As the studies carried on, so far have concluded, platelet-rich plasma is most effective in treating chronic tendon injuries, such as tennis elbow, chronic Achilles tendonitis, or patellar tendon inflammation. Even though the results are very promising, it is still difficult to assess at this point whether PRP treatment is more effective than the regular treatment methods for these conditions.
- Acute muscle and ligament injuries: PRP has been used in the treatment of muscle and ligament injuries, especially by professional athletes. Although PRP has received quite a lot of publicity, it is still difficult to say if the preparation works better than the traditional treatment methods.
- Surgery: Recently, platelet-rich plasma has been used in a few types of surgery to accelerate tissue healing. Examples include surgical procedures for repairing torn rotator cuff tendons or torn knee ligaments.
- Knee arthritis: Research is being conducted to assess PRP’s effectiveness in treating knee arthritis. However, it is too soon to determine if PRP can be more effective than traditional treatment methods.