Platelet rich plasma therapy: a sports injection that isn't banned
Platelet rich plasma therapy is a new procedure that involves injecting a small amount of concentrated blood products from your own body into the joint space to heal strains and sprains of the ligaments and tendons. It's all the rage among sports stars, and it's just now gaining popularity among normal folks like you.
Before the 2009 Super Bowl, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward injected a substance into his body that enhanced his performance. Fortunately, it was a new treatment for a knee injury he experienced earlier in the season. The treatment is called platelet rich plasma therapy and it involves injecting some of your own blood into the area around effected ligaments and tendons to help them heal quicker. Fellow Steelers player Troy Polamalu, Tiger Woods, and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Chris Canty have also used this new therapy for either knee ligament problems or elbow tendonitis to heal from strains. The bonus is that it is less invasive than surgery, does not require long rehabilitation, and uses your own blood to heal your injured tendons.
Just a spoonful of medicine: injecting platelet rich plasma
In a nutshell, platelet rich plasma therapy is so simple, it is a wonder that researchers haven't come up with it sooner. You give a sample of your own blood, and that sample is spun in a centrifuge until the platelets and other important healing proteins are concentrated into a sample that is roughly the size of a tablespoon. Some of these proteins include platelet-derived growth factor, fibroblast growth factor, and connective tissue growth factor. These proteins are vital for healing injured connective tissue. The areas around the tendons where tendonitis occurs do not usually get a great deal of blood flow. By injecting these proteins directly into the site of injury, it gives the site a far greater chance of healing itself because all the raw materials for healing are present and in greater numbers than the body is normally able to produce in these areas. Early studies showed that this procedure helped people recover from tendon and ligament injury without invasive surgery.
Hold on a minute: some dissenting views about platelet rich plasma therapy
In the beginning, platelet rich plasma therapy seemed like a miracle cure for injuries to the connective tissues of the body, but some recent studies have shown mixed results about this new procedure. A 2011 study published in the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” injected platelet rich plasma or whole blood into the elbows of people suffering from tennis elbow. Since whole blood has less concentration of the plasma proteins, it should be less effective in healing the tendons. However, the study found both injections to be equally effective. Even more damning was a study published in the same journal in 2011 comparing the procedure to a placebo saline injection for Achilles tendonitis. Again, no statistical difference was seen between the groups, showing that even salt water helped heal the tendons.
Choosing platelet rich plasma therapy
Many people have tried platelet rich plasma therapy and had good results. It certainly helped many sports stars get back on the field, and it can help you recover from your strains and sprains. The expense of the procedure may keep some away, but it is much less expensive than invasive surgery and does not require the long months of rehabilitation that surgery would demand. This procedure is also painful, but it might be worth it to avoid surgery. Some insurance companies are willing to pay for this if it means avoiding surgery, but some are not covering it because it is still too experimental. If you want platelet rich plasma therapy, you will have to do your own research and possibly pay out of your own pocket to have it.
- New York Times; A Promising Treatment for Athletes, in Blood; Alan Schwarz; February 2009
- New York Times; Phys Ed: Does Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy Really Work?; Gretchen Reynolds; January 2011
- Wikipedia; Platelet Rich Plasma
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