Certain elements within the blood, specifically the platelets, help tissues to heal by stimulating a repair and growth response. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections promote accelerated healing by supplementing the platelet content of an area in which tissue has been damaged.
PRP is plasma with a high concentration of platelets. Platelets, most commonly associated with clotting, can also assist in mending and strengthening damaged tissues by increasing certain growth factors at the site.
PRP injections can be used to treat a wide range of orthopedic conditions, including arthritis, tendonitis, tendonosis, chronic or postsurgical joint pain, bursitis, ligament tears or sprains, and nerve inflammation. They are also sometimes used to speed healing after non-orthopedic surgeries, especially cosmetic procedures.
PRP injections are usually administered in the doctor’s office, under local anesthesia, with the assistance of ultrasound imaging. A small amount of blood is withdrawn from the patient and separated into its composite elements in a centrifuge. A rich concentration of platelets, up to five times the concentration found in natural blood, is then injected into the patient at the site of the damaged tissue.
Each procedure takes under an hour. Most patients require up to three PRP injections, about 4 to 6 weeks apart, in order to achieve optimal results. Occasionally, a fourth injection is necessary.
Most patients experience little or no discomfort from the injection, but the site is expected to be inflamed and sore for about 48 hours during which time pain medication and ice can be used as needed. Typically, by the fifth day after an injection, the patient experiences some significant relief from the original condition and begins physical therapy. Patients can return to work and other normal activities immediately after treatment, but should refrain from heavy lifting and strenuous activity for a few days. The doctor will monitor the patient to determine if and when another injection is necessary.
For many patients, PRP injections offer significant relief from pain and other symptoms, and may eliminate the need for surgery or long-term medication. This treatment also speeds up the healing process, allowing patients to return to their normal activities more quickly than other nonsurgical treatments. Because the injected blood comes from the patient, there is no risk of cross-reactivity, immune reaction or disease transmission. Unlike corticosteroid injections, PRP injections actually facilitate healing.
There is always a risk of infection or clotting with any type of injection, but such complications are extremely rare. There is also a remote possibility that a patient will have an allergic reaction to some portion of the procedure. Most patients undergo this procedure with no problems.