Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) is an advanced pain management therapy where platelets are collected from your own blood, then injected into the site of injury. Platelets are small fragments in the blood that contain ‘growth factors’, which are the body’s signal to initiate a healing response. As a result, torn tendons and ligaments heal faster and more completely and injured joints become stronger and more stable when stimulated by growth factors.
PRP treatments are particularly helpful in cases of osteoarthritis, ligament / tendon tears and various joint sprains. If you suffer from any of these injuries then PRP may be a treatment worth trying, but that’s not the only reason why. Here’s 5 more to help you decide if PRP is right for you:
1. PRP uniquely triggers the body to heal itself
The way that PRP works is unique. If most other treatment methods have not worked for you, it still remains likely that PRP will provide the results you’ve been looking for.
The body is an intelligent entity and knows how to heal itself. Joints however are notoriously slow to heal because they receive far less blood flow compared to muscles and organs. The concept behind PRP is that we take those healing signals from the bloodstream, concentrate them as much as possible and with the precision of a needle, we place these healing molecules exactly where they need to be to signal the body to amplify the healing process.
Pharmacological interventions simply suppress the symptoms, rather than heal the problem.
2. PRP addresses the root cause of pain and provides long term benefits
Often the cause of chronic joint or muscle pain is related to a ligament that has been injured and never fully healed. Ligaments have a poor blood supply and so it is common that complete healing does not occur.
After an injury, a joint may become unstable and nearby muscles tense up to help stabilize the area. This is a normal response to prevent further injury. This compensation leads to chronic muscle spasms and is experienced as chronic discomfort and stiffness. In this scenario, treating the muscles will not provide lasting benefit, but strengthening the ligaments and stabilizing the joint surely will.
PRP treats the root cause by injecting platelets directly into the site where the ligaments were initially injured. By strengthening the ligaments that maintain joint stability we effectively address the root cause of the joint pain. Upon stabilizing a joint, pain reduction is achieved for the long term.
3. PRP is very safe and helps reduce the need for pain medications and their associated side effects
Pain medication, used short or long term, comes with side effects including nausea, constipation, increased risk of stomach ulcers, addiction, liver and kidney problems and several others. When the root of the pain is not addressed, medications can be prescribed for very long periods of time. These medications often help to reduce the pain but do not fully solve the problem.
Alternate injection therapies like cortisone shots also come with side effects such as thinning of the skin, tendon thinning, risk of tendon rupture and osteoporosis.
In contrast, the risks associated with PRP are minor, uncommon and transient. The most common side effect with PRP is bruising. PRP is a treatment option where the potential benefits clearly outweigh the potential risks.
4. Scientific studies show that PRP is an effective therapy to speed healing time
PRP has been used in medicine only since the mid 90s, but has quickly gained awareness in sports medicine clinics around the world. Pro athletes like Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal have successfully used PRP to treat their injuries and return to sport faster than expected.
The research into PRP is still in its early stages but the conclusions being made are that PRP holds great promise for joint injuries and arthritic joints by significantly improving healing time in comparison to alternatives such as cortisone injections. In specific, studies show 6 months after treatment there is superior benefit for those who received PRP.
5. Adding PRP to ongoing treatments such as physiotherapy and acupuncture can dramatically improve healing
The patients and athletes that respond the quickest and most completely are those who are working side-by-side with a qualified physiotherapist. PRP treatments are typically done on a monthly basis and while resting for 1-3 days following treatment is recommended, the rest of the month should be spent moving the joint and engaging in strengthening exercises. For patients who are already receiving physiotherapy and acupuncture treatments, adding PRP can significantly improve healing.
Does PRP sound right for you?
Dr. Meli is a board-certified naturopathic doctor and has a sports medicine-focused practice in Vancouver and Squamish BC. He has treated hundreds of patients using injection therapies such as PRP.