During the past several years, much has been written about a preparation called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and its potential effectiveness in the treatment of injuries.
Platelet rich plasma therapy involves a simple blood draw. The blood is then placed in a centrifuge that spins and separates the blood into layers. This process concentrates the platelets and growth factors, both of which play a central role in the healing process, into a specific layer which is then extracted and used to activate the body’s natural healing response. This is most commonly performed by injecting the PRP into the site of damaged tissue.
Many famous athletes — Tiger Woods, tennis star Rafael Nadal, and several others — have received PRP for various problems, such as sprained knees and chronic tendon injuries.
Even though PRP has received extensive publicity, there are still lingering questions about it, such as:
What Is Platelet-rich Plasma (PRP)?
Although blood is mainly a liquid (called plasma), it also contains small solid components (red cells, white cells, and platelets.) The platelets are best known for their importance in clotting blood. However, platelets also contain hundreds of proteins called growth factors which are very important in the healing of injuries.
PRP is plasma with many more platelets than what is typically found in blood. The concentration of platelets — and, thereby, the concentration of growth factors — can be 5 to 10 times greater (or richer) than usual.
To develop a PRP preparation, blood must first be drawn from a patient. The platelets are separated from other blood cells and their concentration is increased during a process called centrifugation. Then the increased concentration of platelets is combined with the remaining blood.
How Does PRP Work?
Although it is not exactly clear how PRP works, laboratory studies have shown that the increased concentration of growth factors in PRP can potentially speed up the healing process.
To speed healing, the injury site is treated with the PRP preparation. This can be done in one of two ways:
Orthobiologics have been shown to have superior results to more standard treatment options when used to treat certain musculoskeletal conditions. For example, multiple research studies have demonstrated improved results with both PRP and stem cell use in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee when compared to steroid or other injections. Similarly, PRP therapy has been shown to improve healing of tennis elbow when compared to the more common treatment of steroid injections and oral anti-inflammatory medications.
In addition to nonoperative treatment, PRP and stem cells can be used as an adjunct to surgical intervention for musculoskeletal conditions. Numerous research studies have demonstrated improved rate and speed of healing with the addition of PRP or stem cells to common orthopedic surgical procedures such as repair of rotator cuff tears in the shoulder and cartilage injuries in the knee.
Orthobiologics is one of the most studied fields of musculoskeletal care. While all of the potential uses of these treatment options have yet to be discovered, orthobiologics provide treatment options which are often less invasive and superior to more traditional treatment modalities.
Dr. Daniel Nicholson offers PRP and stem cell therapy at Perimeter Orthopaedics. Dr. Nicholson is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon with fellowship training in sports medicine. He specializes in arthroscopic surgery of the shoulder, knee, hip and elbow.
*Information gathered by OrthoInfo & Dr. Nicholson – an Orthopedic Specialist providing PRP services to the Atlanta area.
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