Seattle Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee used it for an abdominal strain. Denver Nuggets power forward Kenyon Martin used it on a strained left knee. Last year, Tiger Woods had injections of it in his left knee before four majors and Pittsburgh Steelers Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward used it to treat a strained calf and sprained knee ligament before the teams Super Bowl win.
The treatment, known as platelet-rich plasma, or PRP, is one of a growing number of therapies that enhance the body’s ability to heal itself. A physician extracts about one or two ounces of blood from the patient’s vein and spins it in a centrifuge to separate out the platelets, the part of the blood that secretes growth factors to promote clotting and healing. The doctor injects that platelet-rich plasma back into the patient at the site of injury, where it spurs the repair of injured tissue. Most patients experience relief within several weeks.
PRP, which has been used in dentistry since the 1970s, has caught on only recently for treatment of orthopedic injuries- and on patients outside professional sports, too. It is sometimes used in conjunction with surgery, but most often by itself, and can sometimes eliminate the need for surgery. While it sounds like science fiction, it is legal for professional athletes to use- since it is not injecting foreign or banned substance into the body.
Studies presented this month at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found that PRP was effective at treating chronic tennis elbow, severe Achilles’ tendonitis, and osteoarthritis of the knee.
Some experts, though, say more research is needed to determine what kinds if injuries PRP is best suited for and whether it is better than standard therapies.
In the meantime, word is spreading about the therapy. PRP allowed Janie Frieman to return to playing tennis serval times a week in Scarsdale, N.Y., after tearing a tendon in her forearm, and let Heather Hathaway get back to running her dog-boarding business in Brighton, Colo., after suffering for years with chondromalacia, a painful condition of knee cartilage.
“I was in so much pain that I hadn’t slept for more than 45 minutes at a time for nearly a year,” says Ms. Hathaway. “It’s remarkable how much better I feel.”
“Where it’s been kind of godsend is in tissues that traditionally don’t do a good job healing by themselves- like tendon, ligaments and cartilage,” says Davis Karli, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo., who has treated more than 1,500 patients, including Ms. Hathaway, with PRP.
Its also used to treat plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the bottom of the foot, and muscle injuries. “I’ve used it for hamstring sprains, calf strains, oblique strains and found that it really helps decrease the healing time,” says E. Edward Khalfayan, an orthopedic surgeon who is the team doctor for the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners. Ankle sprains, he notes, can typically keep a player sidelined for six to eight weeks. But with PRP, he says, “I’ve had players come back after two or three weeks.”
PRP has made doctors rethink the role of inflammation, which increases temporarily in the affected tissues. For years. Doctors have tried to reduce inflammation with anti-inflammatory medications, thinking it was the source of pain. “But rather than silence it, we want to harness the power of inflammation,” says Dr. Monto. “By allowing the body to go through its natural healing arc, we can relieve pain by getting rid of the problem.” To that end, patients need to avoid taking anti-inflammatories for several weeks after a PRP treatment, since they can counteract the healing process.
There are very few downsides to PRP, but one of them is pain mainly because it involves injecting fluid into tissues that normally do not have much of it. Some doctors numb the site before/during the injection and occasionally give patients pain medication for 12 to 48 hours.
“I was in agony for a while afterwards,” says Michelle Peiffer, a 54-year-old nurse from Bel Air, MD. She had severe degenerative pain in both Achilles tendons that she could barley walk before she learned about PRP and traveled to Vail to be treated by Dr. Karli last April. “But by August, both of my tendons had completely regenerated,” she says. “Now I have no pain. I work out. I even wear high heels. It is changed my life in a very profound way.
If you are hurting or know someone who could benefit from this type of treatment, give us a call to schedule an apppointment today at 806-355-8263 or schedule online at DoctorsClinicAmarillo.com