PRP therapy leverages the body’s capacity to heal itself, injecting blood platelets to accelerate the healing and reduce the pain of bone and soft tissue injuries and chronic conditions.
The human body does an effective job of healing itself from illness and injury. When conditions are favorable — you are young and physically fit, your immune system is uncompromised, and you have excellent diet and sleep habits, for example — your body should be capable of repairing damage, recovering from injury and overcoming illness without much additional help. But when an injured ligament, muscle or tendon doesn’t begin to heal, heals too slowly or produces chronic pain, treatment with plasma-rich platelet (PRP) therapy may provide a much-needed catalyst for healing.
PRP therapy dates back to the 1970s, and it came into wider use initially among professional athletes. More recently, a growing body of research showing positive patient outcomes and an excellent safety profile have helped take PRP therapy beyond sports professionals to the mainstream population. The principle behind treating injuries with PRP therapy is to increase the amount and concentration of blood components involved in the healing process using the patient’s own blood supply. Plasma contains many growth factors involved in the creation of new cells, a fundamental part of the body’s healing process.
How Blood Becomes PRP
Separating the plasma from the two other main components of blood is accomplished through a process called centrifugation. A small amount of blood is drawn from the patient and loaded into a sterile centrifuge, a machine that uses the centrifugal force created by its high-speed spinning action to separate the platelets, the plasma and the red blood cell components.
The site for the injection is cleaned, followed in some cases by the application of local anesthesia. Then the platelets are injected using a needle and syringe. Depending on the nature and location of the injury being treated, ultrasound may be used to help pinpoint the precise entry point and angle for the plasma injection as it provides the doctor with real-time images of the inside of the body.
What types of injuries can PRP therapy help?
People with injuries to tendons, muscles and ligaments, as well those recovering from bone fractures, may benefit from PRP therapy. PRP therapy can be used to promote healing of injuries to the Achilles tendon, which connects each leg’s calf muscles to the heels of the feet. Achilles and other tendon ruptures and tears can be quite disabling, and PRP therapy can be considered both as a treatment to help avoid the need for surgery, as well as a post-surgery therapy to promote healing.
High Safety, Low Risk
PRP therapy is a highly safe, low-risk non-surgical treatment. Recovery occurs quickly, enabling patients to resume normal daily activities soon after the procedure. There are very few risks associated with PRP therapy, especially since the patient’s own blood is the source for the injected plasma. This makes it unlikely that the body will have an allergic or rejection response. As with all injection procedures, there is a very small risk of infection, and the risk of possible injury to the area in or around the injection site is low.
Considerations for Treatment
As with most medical treatments, not everyone has the same experience or outcome with PRP, and some people are better candidates than others. I encourage all patients to do some research on their own, talk to their doctor, ask questions and explore different options before deciding what works best for you and your own situation. Chronic pain and debilitating injuries can have a tremendous impact on quality of life. PRP therapy is among the safest, least disruptive treatments offering the potential for noticeable improvement for a wide range of conditions.
By Dr. Alisara (Amy) Arirachakaran
, Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Science Specialist at Bumrungrad International Hospital