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What Is Platelet-Rich Plasma?
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is created when blood is taken from a patient's vein and placed in a special centrifuge to concentrate platelets (usually 3-5 times their normal concentration). After the PRP is prepared, treatments are administered via IV infusion for maximum effectiveness. Upon infusion, these supercharged platelets rush to the affected tissue (joints, ligaments or tendons, for example), and initiate a deposition of new collagen. The healing process is then initiated and controlled by bioactive proteins found in platelets, plasma and white blood cells. This results in the accelerated repair of damaged tissue.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatments work by supplying injured areas with bioactive growth factors such as: natural proteins, cytokines, and stem cells.
PRP treatment is often used to treat the following conditions:
Platelet-rich plasma therapy is a crucial element of regenerative medicine, one that has been used in some capacity since 1987. Although its earliest uses were in open heart surgery, platelet-rich plasma or PRP is now used in a variety of settings such as sports medicine, orthopedics, fasciomaxillary, cosmetic surgery, and urology. When it is injected into soft tissues, PRP has shown to promote healing and recovery from a variety of injuries. In fact, many famous athletes such as Tiger Woods and tennis star Rafael Nadal have reportedly used PRP therapy to improve their recovery time after they've suffered injuries such as tennis elbow or muscle strains.
Despite its relatively wide usage within the field of regenerative medicine compared to stem cell therapy and other treatments, much of the research on platelet-rich plasma and its clinical validity is still ongoing. What has been observed has so far been very promising even if it has yielded few conclusive results, and it will likely continue to be a major component in regenerative medicine as doctors learn more about it and how it works.
Blood is composed of both solid components and a liquid component. The solid component is made up of red and white blood cells and platelets, while the liquid component is called plasma. The platelets are mainly responsible for the clotting of blood when a person is bleeding, but they also contain proteins called growth factors that aid in the healing of injuries. As its name implies, platelet-rich plasma contains a higher than average concentration of platelets along with a concentration of growth factors that are five to ten times higher than the blood that is normally found in the body.
To create platelet-rich plasma, doctors must first draw at least one tube of blood from a patient. The platelets in the blood are separated from the red and white blood cells in a process called centrifugation, resulting in a greater concentration of platelets in the plasma. This increased concentration of platelets is then combined with the remaining blood, either by injecting it directly into an injury site or introduced to damaged tissue during a surgical procedure.
How Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy Works
Doctors aren't entirely sure how platelet-rich plasma therapy works, but laboratory research has indicated that the higher concentration of growth factors in PRP may speed up the healing of damaged tissues. Torn muscles, damaged tendons, osteoarthritis, and even broken bones can theoretically be treated with platelet-rich plasma therapy.
When PRP is used to help speed up the recovery process when someone is injured, it is generally used in one of two ways. The first is to inject it directly into the injured tissue such as an inflamed tendon. The PRP is often combined with a local anesthetic to minimize any pain that might be felt. In these cases, the pain that the patient feels might actually increase in the weeks following the injection before there are clear signs of improvement.
PRP can also be used to speed up the recovery process after a surgery, much like how it was first used during an open heart surgery in 1987. When PRP is used in this way, it is treated in such a way that it can be applied directly the damaged tissue during the surgical procedure.
What Injuries And Conditions May Be Treated With Platelet-Rich Plasma?
Research is still being completed on the effectiveness of platelet-rich plasma therapy, and although many of the results look promising, they are still largely inconclusive. Researchers currently believe that PRP therapy is most effective in treating chronic tendon injuries such as tennis elbow and Achilles tendonitis, both of which are common sports injuries. As we've said before, the research into this use of PRP is promising, but it isn't clear that it is any more or less effective than other treatment methods.
PRP may also be used to treat sprains and pulled muscles. Much like with tendon injuries, the PRP is carefully injected into an injured muscle to help promote healing. This method has been used by professional athletes to treat their injuries, although there is no conclusive evidence that PRP therapy actually speeds up the recovery time of these injuries. Most of what we do know has been anecdotal and theoretical.
PRP has seen a greater use in surgeries over the last few years, particularly in procedures to repair rotator cuffs and other damaged tendons. In these cases, the PRP can be introduced directly into the damaged tissue during the surgical procedure itself to speed up the recovery process after the surgery. PRP has most recently been used in procedures to repair torn knee ligaments, although there is still no conclusive evidence that says whether or not PRP therapy is truly effective in those scenarios.
Research is also underway to determine whether PRP can be used to treat arthritis in the knee or to speed up the healing of fractured bones. So far, there is no evidence that suggests PRP therapy is effective in these cases.