Platelet-Rich Plasma Makes It Possible To Help Yourself Heal

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closeup of hypodermic syringe with yellow contents

The blood pulsing through your veins and arteries may hold a key to healing your tendons, ligaments and joints.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP), derived from a patient’s own blood, has been used for years to treat musculoskeletal injuries. The uses and research of PRP are growing in orthopedics, sports medicine and numerous other clinical areas.

Platelets, known for their blood-clotting properties, are laden with proteins – or growth factors -- that can speed the healing of injuries, alleviate pain and decrease inflammation.

The process involves drawing blood from your arm, separating platelets and increasing their concentration through a process known as centrifugation – by a machine that spins at high speeds to separate blood components. Platelets combined with blood plasma are then injected by needle into the injured site.

Evolving Science

“The science is very much evolving,” says UH orthopedic surgeon Jacob Calcei, MD, who uses PRP as a treatment option for specific patients. “There is good evidence that it is effective for mild to moderate knee arthritis and some tendinopathies. Whether it’s an option for you really depends on your problem and the severity of the pathology.”

A 2020 study showed a single PRP injection was superior to a corticosteroid injection for osteoarthritis of the knee over a one-year span. Corticosteroids are commonly used to reduce pain and inflammation and are traditionally thought of as the gold-standard joint injection.

Dr. Calcei says PRP holds great promise, but much research is still needed on which injuries and patients are best suited for the therapy.

PRP’s effectiveness depends on many factors, including the injury location and severity, whether the injury is chronic, the patient’s health and variations in the preparation of PRP. For example, PRP has shown to be beneficial for injured elbow tendons, but more data is needed on the use of PRP for other tendon issues.

Some patients may benefit from a single injection, while others may need two or three treatments. It typically takes a month or more to see results.

Other PRP Therapies

PRP also is increasingly used in dermatology to treat skin conditions such as acne, alopecia and skin ulcers, and also is being used to promote hair growth in adults with male- and female-pattern baldness.

PRP, like stem cell therapy, is categorized as a biologic. Because it comes from your own cells and promotes natural healing, it’s considered safe.

“Biologic therapies such as PRP and stem cells have countless potential applications. For certain musculoskeletal problems, we have good data to support use of these biologic therapies, while for many others we are just cracking the surface to discover their full potential,” Dr. Calcei says. “There are ongoing studies right here at University Hospitals examining these biologic therapies and their safety and efficacy in treating specific musculoskeletal problems.”

Related Links

The sports medicine and orthopedic center at University Hospitals provides comprehensive sports injury treatment, from injury prevention through rehabilitation, for athletes of all ages and skill levels. Learn more about sports medicine at UH and find a doctor near you.

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