Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) can be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis in the shoulder, knee, hip, or thumb. But when it comes to the use of platelet-rich plasma therapy to treat joint pain, one size does not fit all. To reach its maximum benefit, PRP should be customized to the specific joint or tissue being treated.
How PRP Works for Joint Pain
Platelet rich plasma is an FDA compliant treatment where a small amount of the patient’s own blood is drawn and then spun in a centrifuge to isolate and concentrate the platelets from the blood sample. The concentrated platelets release numerous growth factors that help to reduce inflammation and stimulate healing and repair of injured cartilage and tissues. Experienced regenerative medicine specialists know how to determine the correct formulation needed and then use ultrasound or fluoroscopic (X-ray) guidance to deliver this customized platelet rich plasma concentration directly to the joint in need of treatment. Sometimes the tendons and ligaments around the joint need to be treated as well.
Key Factors that Impact Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy
We’ve already stated that PRP needs to be customized to the specific joint being treated, but there are other factors that also play a role in successful treatment. These include:
- Diet: Because the platelets are drawn from the patient’s own body, their quality can be highly influenced by the patient’s diet. A folate-rich diet or a diet rich in berries, such as blueberries, may help boost platelet count in a patient’s blood.
- Medications: Patients may be advised to stop taking aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (Advil, Aleve, etc.), blood thinners or other medications that interfere with platelet function.
- Targeted Delivery: Some practices simply inject PRP into the joint without using any image guidance. This is quite literally “stabbing in the dark.” The best results occur when the treatment is delivered specifically to the damaged area using image guidance.
- Technology: Many practices offering PRP do not have the highly specialized equipment necessary to process the patient’s blood so they can receive the highest levels of growth factors and proteins that promote tissue repair.
- The extent of the damage or injury: All patients require a thorough history, physical exam, and imaging studies to determine if their joint is appropriate for PRP treatment. Occasionally, damage to the joint in question may be too advanced for PRP to be considered a viable treatment option.
How Effective is Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy?
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) has been practiced for years, having been one of the first biologic therapies used to treat orthopedic conditions. It is both art and science: art in the skill and expertise of knowing exactly where to deliver the treatment; and science in knowing how to formulate a specifically customized concentration of PRP to achieve maximum benefit.
When administered correctly under the right protocols, most patients gain relief within four to six weeks following PRP therapy and do not require any additional care.
And since the procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, there is no need for hospitalization or lengthy rehab. Nothing more than ice and rest are needed to minimize discomfort as the body begins to heal itself immediately after the injection, and patients are often able to resume normal activities within days. Physical therapy may also be recommended to regain joint mobility and strength.
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In recent years, doctors have learned more about the body’s remarkable ability to heal itself. Platelet-rich plasma therapy is a form of regenerative medicine that harnesses those abilities to heal many joint, tendon and spine injuries.
What is plasma and what are platelets?
Plasma is the liquid portion of your blood. It is primarily composed of water and proteins and provides a means for red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets to circulate throughout the body. Platelets are a special type of blood cell that stimulate healing. They contain hundreds of growth factors that initiate the healing process and encourage tissue regeneration.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) contains a concentration of platelets that is greater than that found in the blood. This significantly increased concentration of growth factors creates an increased stimulus to injured tissues, encouraging them to complete the healing process.
How does Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy Work?
Scientific studies show that by increasing the concentration of growth factors, the body can speed up the healing process. By injecting inflamed or damaged tissue, injuries are encouraged to heal quickly even if they have persisted for years.
How is the PRP treatment performed?
About 4 tablespoons of blood are drawn from the patient using techniques similar to a typical blood exam. The sample is placed into a centrifuge which spins the blood and separates the platelets from the other blood components. After numbing the injured area, the concentrated platelet solution is injected under the visual guidance of an ultrasound or digital xray by your physician.
Areas where PRP therapy has been shown to be effective include:
- Chronic tendon injuries: Platelet-rich plasma therapy can treat sports injuries, such as tennis elbow, gluteal tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, patellar tendinitis and Achilles tendonitis.
- Joint arthritis: PRP is used to reduce the inflammation, pain and stiffness caused by arthritis of knees, hips and other joints. PRP also improves the cushion in the joint and kills the cartilage destroying cells.
- Spine pain: PRP therapy can reduce the pain of chronic disc tears, irritated nerves (sciatica) or joint arthritis.
The effectiveness of PRP therapy varies among different patients as a result of:
- Overall health of the patient
- The severity of the injured tissues
- The length of time the tissue has been injured
Preparing for PRP therapy
The patient should eat and be well hydrated before the procedure to avoid lightheadedness. Patients should tell their doctor about any medications or prescriptions they use on a regular basis. It’s also important to follow the doctor’s instructions when it comes to anti-inflammatory medications or blood thinners.
The PRP Treatment
The procedure is typically performed in a doctor’s clinic. The doctor begins by drawing blood from the patient, and uses a centrifuge to separate the platelets and plasma from the rest of the blood cells. The doctor will then numb the area to be treated and carefully inject the PRP into the injured tissues or joint. The platelets release growth factors which will initiate tissue healing. This treatment takes approximately 30-60 minutes.
After Receiving PRP Therapy
The injection site may be sore for a few days following the procedure. Patients may take mild analgesics like Tylenol or use ice to minimize soreness. Patients usually resume gentle activities within the first week after treatment. The results of PRP are not immediate and patients can observe slow gradual improvement over a couple of months. A review of our clinic data shows that most patients continue to have relief even years after PRP treatment.
Talk with your doctor today if you are interested in learning more about PRP therapy.