Speeding the Healing Process with PRP
From Tiger’s Lament to Your Potential Relief
For many of us, the first time we heard about PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma) was when reading a story about a professional athlete’s treatment and recovery. Tiger Woods was one of the early adopters.
In 2008, Tiger had two major knee surgeries within a span of 10 weeks. The first happened around April 13th of that year, when finished second in the Masters. Two days later, he had arthroscopic surgery to clean out cartilage damage in his left knee.
Shortly after, Tiger competed in the 2008 U.S. Open. He played with a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) that dated back to just after the 2007 British Open. Coupled with that, he also had leg stress fractures. He still won the tournament on June 16th. But sports commentators at the time noted how much in agony Tiger looked as he hobbled to victory.
Nine days after that U.S. Open victory, Tiger had reconstructive surgery to repair his ACL – again in the same left knee. But postoperative recovery was slow for him. He was impatient to get playing again. So he looked for a way to accelerate his healing process.
He turned to PRP, then a not widely known therapy. He received 4 PRP injections to his knee ligament. Tiger has since publicly commented that he believes the treatments were vital for his return to competitive golf.
Now a Mainstream Therapy Alternative
In the years since Tiger placed his faith in PRP, this therapy has evolved and improved dramatically. What is it, and how might it help you?
Let’s start with plasma. Plasma is the liquid portion of your whole blood. It is primarily made up of water and proteins, and it provides a way for red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets to circulate through your body.
Platelets. Platelets are also known as thrombocytes. When you cut yourself, platelets help blood clot so that you stop bleeding. They also are key to your body’s natural healing processes.
PRP. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy involves your Doctor taking your blood and using it to create a concentration of your own platelets. This concentration is then injected into injured tendons, ligaments, muscles, or joints to accelerate healing. Your platelet’s healing factors are focused on where you need them to work the hardest and quickest for you.
How Does It Work?
Clinical studies have shown that platelet-rich plasma stimulates and improves the healing process. It is not a magical cure, but it does have a role in minimizing pain and improving function. For those who respond to PRP injections, it can reliably decrease inflammation.
PRP therapy may be appropriate to treat osteoarthritis of the knee, elbow, shoulder, and hip. It may also be useful for many overuse sports injuries. It is important, however, to have realistic expectations. For example, PRP will not reliably heal a rotator cuff tear without surgery, although it can accelerate the recovery process from this kind of surgical repair.
A major advantage of PRP is that it can reduce the need for anti-inflammatories or opioid pain medication. The side effects are generally limited as the platelets in the injection are coming from your own blood, so your body normally will not reject or act negatively to them.
If successful, PRP generally results in long-lasting relief in comparison with a cortisone shot. This is because, with PRP, the degenerative soft tissue potentially is stimulated to heal or repair itself. In contrast, with cortisone injections, inflammation is simply masked without any healing stimulus.
While we’ve simplified our explanation about this therapy, its effectiveness can vary widely. The degree of PRP’s success often depends on the appropriateness of the cases for which it is used, as well as the details in how it is implemented.
For example, there are many different types of PRP preparation. All don’t yield the same therapeutic concentrations of platelets, growth factors, and cytokines. These cellular components are at the core of what is needed for tissue regeneration and pain reduction.
The good news is that the Main Line Spine clinical team obsesses over these kinds of details. We devote a significant amount of ongoing research time in our focus on PRP innovations and best practices, as well as on other treatments across the entire regenerative orthobiologic spectrum.
Injuries and Conditions for Which PRP Injections May Be Appropriate
Platelet rich plasma has been shown to consistently improve osteoarthritis symptoms. It can stimulate faster healing of torn ligaments and tendons in order to help reduce pain and restore normal function. PRP is also effective in treating tendonitis.
There are also many other injuries and difficult to treat conditions where it has shown promise.
If you’d like to find out if PRP might be an appropriate therapy for you, we suggest you ask your Main Line Spine doctor for more information.