Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) has received tremendous attention, both positive and negative, in recent years as a treatment for many musculoskeletal conditions. We have seen doctors use it with professional athletes to treat injuries and help them return to play. We have also heard criticism that these expensive treatments might not work.

This article discusses the nature of the treatment and the theory behind it as well as its possible uses and side effects. I will share a more detailed discussion of the different conditions and injuries for which PRP is currently used its effectiveness in an article next week.

What is PRP?

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is a treatment using a patient’s blood to promote healing of various structures. The doctor draws a small amount of blood from the patient. He places the syringe of blood in a centrifuge to separate the plasma and platelets from the white blood cells and red blood cells. He then injects the plasma into the injured area. The procedure takes 15 minutes to an hour depending on specifics of the particular platelet-rich plasma process.

Drawing blood for PRP injection

Why would PRP work?

By injecting plasma and platelets into an injured tendon, ligament, muscle, or other structure, the doctor hopes to stimulate a healing response. The platelets release growth factors into the area. These growth factors attract cells that start an inflammatory reaction. In theory, the inflammatory reaction leads to the formation of collagen and other healing tissue.

For what injuries and conditions can PRP be used?

In orthopedic surgery, platelet-rich plasma can be used as a treatment for a number of soft tissue injuries and conditions. These diagnoses include lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), Achilles tendinosis, patellar tendinopathy and other tendon disorders, osteoarthritis, muscle injuries, rotator cuff repair surgeries and more.

Pain from tennis elbow could be relieved with PRP

Are there any risks or side effects to platelet-rich plasma?

PRP is generally believed to be safe. The blood comes from the patient, so side effects are rare. Patients sometimes notice discomfort at the injection site for a day or two.

How much does PRP cost? Does insurance pay for PRP?

Currently, most insurance companies do not pay for PRP treatments. Patients often have to pay for the treatments themselves. Cost varies according to the specific product and other factors. A single treatment usually costs several hundred dollars.

Much more research is needed to determine optimal concentrations and preparations for platelet-rich plasma. Studies on its effectiveness for different orthopedic conditions will also help guide clinical decisions. If patients are interested in trying platelet-rich plasma for their injuries, they can discuss the treatment with their doctor or surgeon.

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