Home Blog Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) & Sports Medicine
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) & Sports Medicine

Platelet Rich Plasma, or PRP, has become more popular as a treatment for certain types of Sports Medicine problems ever since Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers had an injection of this before the Super Bowl in 2006. Ward had injured his medial collateral ligament (MCL), which typically heals without surgery less than 2 weeks before the big game, and his ability to play in the super bowl was in doubt. The Steelers team physician gave him PRP injections, which they say allowed the MCL to heal quicker and Ward played in the game.


So what exactly is PRP? Basically your own blood is drawn and then spun in a centrifuge-type machine, leaving a super high concentration of platelets (above baseline values), without the red blood cells. Platelets play a crucial role in normal healing by releasing growth factors and recruiting reparative cells. This concentrate is then injected into an area of injury – muscle, tendon, or ligament.


Does it work? Overall the jury is still out on this. In the orthopedic surgery literature, there has not been any conclusive evidence to support that it helps injuries heal quicker, let alone do anything. However in the non-orthopedic literature, there has been data to suggest that PRP has some promise / benefit. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the orthopedic research has been conducted in the OR setting, say injecting PRP into / on the rotator cuff or ACL during surgery when the surgery itself causes bleeding, and therefore release of platelets into the area. Maybe adding more platelets into the region doesn’t provide any added benefit.


But in the office setting it may be reasonable to think that in certain chronic conditions, like lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), Achilles tendinitis, or even slow to heal MCL sprains, PRP may help. After all there is no continued bleeding in these areas after the initial injury and therefore unlike in surgical settings, no increased platelet concentration would be found.


Even Kobe Bryant recently had PRP injections done. As reported by LakerNation on twitter, Kobe had PRP injections done in Germany for his knee arthritis (http://bit.ly/lEC9GB). Not entirely sure why he wouldn’t have just had the injections done in Los Angeles.


Acceleration of muscle, tendon, and ligament healing with PRP seems promising, but there is currently little evidence to support its use. To this effect, insurance companies (for the most part) recognize PRP treatment as experimental and thus don’t cover it. So patients have to pay cash out of pocket to get it. I don’t think there is a downside to the treatment – after all it’s your own blood. I am just not sure yet whether it works.


I have given PRP injections for a few different conditions, most notably tennis elbow and MCL injuries that don’t seem to heal with conventional forms of treatment. I’ve seen mixed results, but no side effects or worsening of problems. I still think this is an area where the marketing is ahead of the science and more research needs to be done.


I bet if Kobe’s knee holds up in the next season, the popularity of PRP will make another jump – whether it truly works or not.


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