Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy has made a name for itself among elite athletes. Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez, and Kobe Bryant have all reported reaping the benefits of PRP, and the locker rooms of many professional sports teams contain centrifuges, a machine that is integral in the PRP process. However, if soft tissue injuries are keeping you from doing the activities you love, you do not have to be an elite athlete to enjoy the benefits of PRP.
How does Platelet Rich Plasma therapy work?
The blood in the human body is made up of four main components. Over fifty percent of our blood is plasma. Plasma is the liquid part of the blood, made up of water, salts, and proteins. The rest of our blood is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Each of these components serves a different function within the body. Red blood cells make up approximately 40 percent of our blood, carrying oxygen throughout the body and giving blood its characteristic red color. These red blood cells outnumber white blood cells approximately 600 to 1. White blood cells, while fewer in number, are essential to fighting infections within the body. The last component, platelets, are best known for their role in blood clotting. For example, if one of your blood vessels is damaged, it will signal to the body that it needs platelets to stream to the site of injury to form a clot, and the platelets will then work to repair the damage. If a body’s platelet count is low, it means that the body cannot properly form blood clots, which can be fatal. Platelets can perform this essential healing function because they contain specific proteins referred to as growth factors. As platelets rush to the site of injury to begin clotting, these growth factors start the process of regeneration and healing by activating the body’s biological healing process.
Platelet Rich Plasma therapy capitalizes on the healing capacities of the growth factors in platelets. PRP treatment begins by drawing blood from the patient. This blood is then put into a centrifuge, a machine which spins the blood at high speeds to separate the liquids from solids or fluids of different densities. In this case, the centrifuge separates the platelet and growth factor rich portion of the blood from the red and white blood cells. This platelet rich blood is then injected back into the patient at the site of injury. Once injected at the site, PRP actively stimulates healing for about 24 hours.
To take advantage of PRP’s effectiveness, some regenerative health practitioners will combine PRP therapy with Ozone Therapy. This treatment, called Ozone Clot Matrix (OCM), combines whole blood with activated platelets that is then mixed with ozone gas. Whole blood allows the body to maximize the healing effects of oxygenated red blood cells and the stimulated white blood cells that help to clean up the damaged tissue. This concentrated blend of ozone and nourishing blood forms a matrix which allows the PRP to augment healing at the site of injection, and OCM helps the therapy to work efficiently for two weeks rather than 24 hours. This greatly increases the rate of regeneration and the potency of the treatment in comparison to PRP therapy used in isolation.
PRP therapy also relies on the repairing function of stem cells. When injected, PRP assists the release of stem cells from vessel walls which then intensifies tissue repair. Your regenerative medicine practitioner may also suggest adding mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) injection therapy to your treatment plan alongside OCM or PRP therapies. Together, these two injection therapies have a synergistic effect which supports your body in healing even more quickly. PRP therapy is also generally used in conjunction with physical therapy to maximize benefits and speed up recovery times.
PRP vs. Cortisone Injections
Cortisone shots are widely known to help reduce swelling and pain when used to treat tissue and joint injuries. As a steroid, when injected into the site of injury, it hinders cell’s protein metabolism so that inflamed cells are essentially shut down. While it has the positive effect of curbing swelling and pain, it cannot target only inflamed cells. Unfortunately, because cortisone affects all of the cells, it reduces the activity of normal, healthy cells. This ultimately leads to the weakening of tissues. Most importantly, cortisone shots do not work to repair the damaged tissue like PRP does. These treatments work only to reduce pain. Pain is an important signaling system in our body, letting us know when something is not right. Cortisone shots improve the pain temporarily but do not aid in the healing of the injury, so often individuals return too soon to their regular activities. Returning to their activities without having repaired the damage found in the tissues often causes further injury and degeneration. Instead of masking the pain, PRP works with the natural mechanisms in your body to heal the injury rather than merely treating the pain.
Benefits of PRP
Elite athletes use PRP because it speeds up the rate at which tissue heals. PRP can be used to treat tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Of the three, the healing process for ligaments can be the most difficult and lengthy. Due to this, those who suffer from ligament injuries benefit greatly from PRP therapy to help shorten their healing time.
PRP also is frequently used to aid the healing of tendonitis. Specifically, it is commonly used to treat tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), jumper’s knee (patellar tendinitis), rotator cuff tendinitis, and Achilles tendinopathy. Additionally, it is used to treat other tendon irritations, chronic tendon conditions, and bursitis around the shoulder, knee, elbow, and ankle joints. It is also shown to be effective in treating the pain associated with knee, hip, and shoulder osteoarthritis.
Similar to other therapies used in regenerative medicine, PRP uses your own body’s healing mechanisms to jump start the recovery process. PRP has the added benefit of relieving acute and chronic pain while it works to heal injured tissues and joints. This means that reliance on prescription or over-the-counter painkillers can be minimized or completely removed from your treatment plan. The non-surgical approach of PRP therapy also means that there is very little recovery time associated with the injections. Doctors may suggest that you rest the affected area after injection, but this often has more to do with the injury than the injection. Usually, patients can resume normal daily activities immediately after the injection but it is not recommended to resume strenuous exercise for two weeks post injection.
The approach that PRP therapy takes is ideal for patients who are wary of the addictive prescriptions and lengthy recovery times that are associated with surgery. Just like cortisone shots, simply treating pain with ibuprofen, aspirin, or other NSAIDs over a long period of time poses its own health concerns and only treats the symptoms. Beyond carrying fewer risk, PRP therapy offers improved recovery, as well as reduced scarring, swelling and bruising compared to other treatments. Using the body’s own restorative mechanisms, PRP treats the source of the injury and pain by healing the tendons, ligaments, or muscles that are damaged. This allows patients to return to their healthy, pain-free lifestyles with less risk and less downtime.
Dr. Lundquist is Board Certified in Family Medicine with ABFM and he is sub-specialized with the American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABoIM). He has also has received a certification from the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine (ABIHM).
Dr. Lundquist has a special interest in Integrative and Holistic medicine. He is currently the founder and medical director for the Temecula Center for Integrative Medicine specializing in all aspects of Functional Medicine. He is a member of the American Holistic Medical Association as well as the Institute of Functional Medicine. He specializes in endocrine disorders especially thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, chronic fatigue, migraine headaches, cardio metabolic disorders, and chronic pain.