Platelet rich plasma
Imagine if we could tell your body to fix itself. Imagine if we could inject factors into your joint with all different types of instructions to repair cartilage, grow new cartilage, repair ligament damage, and fix connective tissue. Sure seems like an ideal treatment. To some extent, this is the idea behind platelet rich plasma. Platelet rich plasma contains millions of growth factors that do exactly that: Signal your body to heal itself.
Platelet rich plasma is a component of your blood. This particular mixture in your blood can be separated out from a sample of blood, using a centrifuge, and then injected anywhere. The platelets, In addition to assist with blood clotting, are essentially bags of growth factors. After an injury has occurred and bleeding takes place (or example when you cut yourself) these growth factors are released and encourage the healing process.
There is some research to suggest that such injections are effective for a variety of conditions such as tendinitis. Research is ongoing to determine benefits for cartilage damage and osteoarthritis.
Research still needs to show if these are the rights growth factors, or the right mixture of growth factors to encourage joint regeneration. As a result, its widespread use for osteoarthritis is unclear at this time.
As this is a component of a patient’s own blood, the risk from this injection is low. The benefits of PRP need to be more thoroughly explored.
Treatment with platelet rich plasma
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The treatment using PRP is simple. It is typically done as an in-office procedure. A small sample of blood is drawn, placed into a centrifuge, and the platelet-rich layer is separated. Injection is then done as would a steroid or gel injection. Ultrasound guidance is frequently used in my office to ensure accurate placement. Such treatments can be repeated, usually about a month apart.
Response to a PRP injection
Many patients experience slightly increased soreness for the 10 days or so after the injection due to an inflammatory response. This is not surprising as these growth factors do encourage the production of inflammation which in turn can result in healing.
Can PRP prevent further arthritis ?
There is encouraging data. A study in 2013 did show that cartilage loss was slowed by PRP injections. While only one study, this is encouraging that it may be doing something productive to keep cartilage healthy. A recent study in 2016 found there is benefit from platelet rich plasma over other options for hip osteoarthritis.
Overall, PRP may help you to keep the cartilage you have and slow arthritis, but more research is still needed. There is no clear evidence that it can reverse the arthritic process. Over the next few years, I expect new data will be discovered for or against this treatment of osteoarthritis.
My office has been treating a variety of conditions with PRP for several years. For another perspective, please read the blog post on my group’s website here.