By Raj N. Sureja, MD
If you watch professional sports on TV, like football or baseball, you are probably familiar with PRP and how it is used to get athletes back in the game more quickly after a musculoskeletal injury. High profile jocks, such as Hines Ward and Brian Urlacher (football), Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz (baseball), Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant (basketball) or Tiger Woods (golf) are just a few of the pro athletes who have seen the benefits of PRP as a treatment for their injuries.
What exactly is PRP and how is it used to heal injury? For patients undergoing this treatment, we first take a few vials of their own blood, called autologous donation. When their whole blood is spun in a centrifuge, it separates into different components. We keep the platelet rich plasma and discard the platelet poor plasma and red blood cells. PRP contains a high concentration of growth factors and cytokines, which are healing factors that stimulate recovery of bone and soft tissue. We then re-inject the PRP into the painful tendon, joint or ligament to encourage healing and regeneration. The patient is asked to rest the area for a few weeks in order to give the treatment the best opportunity to work.
PRP is being used more extensively in the treatment of ordinary folk who have painful conditions like bursitis, tendinitis and arthritis. I use it frequently in my Regenerative Medicine practice. While much of the evidence surrounding the efficacy of PRP has been anecdotal or inconclusive, more studies are being performed to measure real gains in healing and recovery in non-athlete patients.
The news is encouraging, especially for sufferers of knee pain associated with primary osteoarthritis. In a recent study, done by Columbia Orthopaedic Group of Columbia, Missouri, reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, 30 patients saw a 78% improvement in their knee pain after receiving autologous conditioned plasma (ACP) in a series of three weekly injections. Control group patients, injected with a saline solution, had a 7% improvement. All groups received their injections on the same schedule and were followed for a year after their first injection.
The patients were assessed using the WOMAC Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index. The ACP Group was found to have statistically significant improvements in efficacy vs. the Control Group, while there were no differences in the groups regarding patient safety.
I often recommend PRP for my patients who do not respond to conventional treatments or for whom surgery is a last resort or not an option. Although not covered by insurance, the cost is minimal when compared to stem cell therapy and I have seen great results, healing and pain-relief in a good number of my patients.