The world’s top athletes, whose very livelihood depends on speedy recovery from injury and pain, have highlighted the effectiveness of Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) in pain management and healing. The list of luminaries who have made successful comebacks following treatment includes Usain Bolt, Steven Gerrard, Paula Radcliffe and the world number one in men’s singles tennis, ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal. Luckily, unlike high-priced, top-secret celebrity perks, PRP is available to us non-famous folk too.
The reason behind PRP’s immense popularity is self-evident – it is natural, efficient, non-addictive and its effects don’t wear off over time as a painkiller’s do. It harnesses the power of our body’s own blood platelets, which means there is no risk of an allergic reaction either. So, how does it work, and what can it treat?
The Science Behind PRP
PRP treatment uses our body’s own remarkable healing agents to help speed up recovery and provide pain relief. It does this by utilizing our blood’s platelets, which we usually think of as clotting agents, but which also play a key role in the healing process.
During the treatment, a little of your blood is extracted and processed (spun) in a centrifuge to isolate the plasma concentrate, which is then injected back into the painful area. The platelets concentrated in this plasma contain a class of proteins, called growth factors, that are key to healing muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Our blood is normally made up of 93% red blood cells, 6% white blood cells, 1% platelets, and plasma. The concentration of platelets after processing might be five times greater in PRP than in your normal blood.
What Conditions can it Treat?
PRP works quickly, usually after a few injections, and has proved particularly effective in chronic ligament and tendon sprains where other treatments have failed. However, it is useful in treating all sorts of conditions, including:
- Lumbar spine disc pain
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Shoulder pain
- Osteoarthritis (including shoulder, hip joint, knee and ankle arthritis)
- Tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Strains (hamstring and hip) and sprains (knee and ankle)
- Patellofemoral syndrome, patellar tendonitis, Achilles’ tendonitis, plantar fasciitis
- Sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction and pain
- Lumbar and cervical facet dysfunction and pain
- Is PRP an Alternative to Surgery?
PRP is a remarkable treatment, but should not be seen as a miraculous cure-all. The effectiveness will depend on the nature of the complaint and how much damage has already occurred. In mild arthritis, for example, PRP treatment could potentially stop any further degeneration and thus prevent surgery down the line. However, in cases of severe degeneration, the aim of using PRP would primarily be to ease the pain. That said, combining PRP with stem cell treatments has shown very promising results in preventing orthopedic surgery.
How Long Will It Take to Work?
One of the main advantages of PRP treatment is its longevity – it is categorized as a permanent fix. The timeframe for seeing results will depend on the nature and seriousness of your injury, as well as which area of your body is affected. On average, most patients begin to see signs of improvement such as reduced pain or increased function within four to six weeks.