Our orthopedic surgeons love doing surgery, but even we agree that it’s best to stay out of the operating room whenever possible! One non-surgical treatment option for joint pain and injuries that’s gotten a lot of buzz lately is PRP, or platelet rich plasma injections.
While doctors worldwide have used it successfully since the late 1980s to help with recovery after surgery (veterinarians even have used PRP to treat injured racehorses), PRP has only recently gained popularity in the United States as an orthopedic treatment, thanks to some high-profile patients like Tiger Woods and NFL player Hines Ward. But, as is often the case with newer treatments, there’s hype surrounding PRP that may confuse patients who need honest answers about their treatment options.
Our PRP therapy specialist at Carolina Hand & Sports Medicine, board certified physiatrist Dr. Christie Lehman, has helped hundreds of patients overcome pain and injury with PRP. In many cases, she’s even helped patients stay out of the operating room. We asked her to give the 411 on PRP to help those of you considering this treatment get the right information.
What is PRP?
PRP stands for “platelet rich plasma,” which is special preparation of your own blood. To create PRP, blood is taken from your arm and placed into a centrifuge. This separates out the red and white blood cells, leaving behind a fluid containing only tiny disc-like cells called platelets and plasma (the liquid component of blood), which are very rich in proteins, growth factors, and other nutrients that help tissues heal quickly.
PRP is not a painkiller or a drug—it encourages your body’s natural healing process by super-loading injured tissues with growth factors. We have had patients with chronic injuries become pain-free after PRP when other therapies have not worked.
How does PRP therapy work?
PRP therapy works by injecting platelet rich plasma into injured tissue to encourage healing. PRP is not a painkiller or even a drug—it delivers the natural healing tools in your blood to the site of injury. PRP is especially beneficial for treating tendons, ligaments and joints, which tend to have poor blood supply. Click here to learn what’s involved in the PRP procedure.
Does platelet rich plasma really work?
Yes. There is substantial research showing that PRP can effectively treat conditions such as tennis elbow, knee arthritis, and sports-related muscle injuries. However, it’s not an overnight fix. PRP accelerates your body’s natural healing process by super-loading injured tissues with growth factors. Then, it’s up to your body to continue the healing process. This takes time. For the first few weeks, you may be nervous that treatment didn’t work, but with proper care, you should notice a marked improvement in your pain and mobility before long.
If it’s going to take several weeks for PRP to work, why bother?
This is an understandable question, especially when you’ve been dealing with pain for awhile—you want relief ASAP! In truth, however, if months of conservative treatments, such as NSAIDs, physical therapy, and rest have not worked, they are not likely to start working now.
PRP can help chronic tendon or joint pain by getting maximum amounts of all the “good stuff” your body needs to get “over the hump” and create a healthier and less painful environment—something other therapies cannot do. We have seen patients with chronic and degenerative injuries become pain-free after PRP when other therapies have not worked.
That said, no one treatment is effective for every patient. Dr. Lehman, who is an experienced and highly trained physician, can determine whether PRP is the right option for you based on your injury type, medical history and success with other treatments.
Is PRP safe? Are there any side effects?
One of the strongest benefits of PRP is that it presents minimal risk to the patient when administered by a qualified, experienced doctor. Because your own blood is used, there is no worry about drug-related side effects, allergic reaction, or rejection. While we may need to take a little more blood for PRP than we would for routine bloodwork, this amount is still much less than that needed for a typical blood donation. While there is a slight risk of infection or nerve damage with any injection, adverse effects are extremely rare with PRP.
What types of injuries and conditions can PRP treat?
The most common conditions we treat with PRP are chronic tendinopathy (a.k.a. tendonitis), muscle tears, osteoarthritis, and other issues that have not responded well to more conservative treatments, such as:
- Tennis and golfer’s elbow
- Partial rotator cuff tears
- Achilles tendonitis
- Patellar tendonitis
- Hip and shoulder labral tears
- Mild-moderate joint arthritis
PRP can also be beneficial post-surgery to help operated tissues heal optimally.
Do PRP injections hurt?
We are injecting platelets directly into injured tissue, which is already sensitive, so the shots may be a bit uncomfortable. Moderate soreness may be present for several days and even up to several weeks, as the platelets temporarily exacerbate the inflammatory response, though this happens less than 10% of the time. In most cases, any soreness subsides after a day or two. Any discomfort can usually be managed just fine with medication or ice packs and Tylenol. Daily activities are not typically limited after the procedure.
Is PRP a good substitute for surgery?
The answer depends on many factors, including the type, location and severity of injury, as well as what other treatments you have tried. For many patients who are not responding well to more conservative treatments, PRP can often postpone or even eliminate the need for surgery. However, if you have more extensive damage to a joint, tendon or ligament, or if PRP does not prove effective for you, then surgery or stem cell therapy may be the best next step.
Will insurance cover PRP treatments?
Unfortunately, most insurance companies do not currently cover PRP injections, so costs come out of pocket for patients. However, it’s always worth checking with your insurance company to see if they will reimburse you. If they do not offer any coverage, compare the monetary cost of treatment to the quality-of-life cost of continued pain and activity restriction.
How can I get PRP therapy in Asheville?
Call Carolina Hand & Sports Medicine! The first step is to meet Dr. Lehman, our board certified physician with fellowship training in Orthobiologics in Asheville, for an initial consultation and evaluation. During this appointment, we will discuss your case and may order diagnostic tests to pinpoint the cause and extent of your injury. Call 828-253-7521 during regular office hours, or contact us online anytime.