PRP: Is It a Miracle Cure?

Many injuries to the muscles, tendons, and bones are notoriously difficult to manage. This is especially true when it comes to sports injuries. Even when proper treatment was administered, the athletes often times do not give the injuries enough time to heal. A trending new treatment called platelet rich plasma may provide the boosts these injuries need.

As the name suggests, platelet rich plasma (PRP) is a treatment involving platelet-enriched blood. Platelets are an important blood component for wound clotting. But in platelet rich plasma treatment, they work by concentrating your body’s own growth factors and nutrients to the injured site, thus helping the athlete recover.

Platelet rich plasma treatment is interesting, because the platelet rich plasma comes from the patient’s own blood. How it works is that the doctor will draw a small vial of blood and then will spin the vial so all the platelets go to the bottom of the tube. The platelets are then collected and injected directly into the area of tendonitis and/or bone injuries.

Platelet rich plasma treatment is often an expensive treatment (Approximately $500) that is not usually covered by insurance companies, so one might question why this treatment over the “traditional”corticosteroid injections. Corticosteroid injections are given to athletes with painful injuries so they can continue playing. These injections work not by numbing the pain directly, but rather by decreasing inflammation, which in return gets rid of pain. However, unlike platelet rich plasma treatment, corticosteroid injections do not help healing an injury. In addition, there are some serious side effects of corticosteroid injections. One of the most serious side effects is causing future damage. Because the injections get rid of inflammation, the athlete is able to play without pain. As you can imagine, the athlete may not realize that further damage has occurred until significant dysfunction is noted.

Unlike platelet rich plasma, corticosteroid injections are not produced in the human body. This means that serious allergic reactions are always a risk when using corticosteroids. Furthermore, long-term repetitive corticosteroid injections decrease the immune system’s ability to fight off infections. Lastly, with long-term use of the corticosteroid injections, muscle/tendon atrophy, weakness, and cartilage degeneration may occur.

Platelet rich plasma treatment is more advantageous than corticosteroid injections because platelet rich plasma is made by your own body and actively works to heal the injury. Many researchers are now actively trying to better understand how platelet rich plasma works as well as what injuries it is indicated for. There have also been research studies that demonstrated the superiority of platelet rich plasma treatments over corticosteroid injections. It is only a matter of time before doctors and scientists unravel the secrets behind this treatment.  In the foot and ankle, PRP is most often used for Achilles tendinopathy and plantar fasciitis.  As opposed to corticosteroid injections, which could require 2-3 injections, PRP is injected once. 

Although the physiological role of platelet rich plasma is still under active investigation, its clinical value is well recognized. Jose Contreras, Tiger Woods, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, and Bobby Jenks are just some of the professional athletes who have received platelet rich plasma treatment for their various injuries.

Platelet rich plasma treatment is not for everyone. It should not be used if you are taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAID), have active infections, cancer, or are pregnant. Dr. Yakel in conjunction with Platte Valley Medical Center, does provide PRP treatment.

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