What is PRP Treatment?

A relatively new innovation in non-surgical musculoskeletal care, platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy is a procedure in which the growth factors from one’s platelets are concentrated and injected at the site of a tissue injury. This treatment can result in accelerated healing.

The body’s blood supply is comprised mainly of plasma. Blood also contains several different cell types:

  • White blood cells for immunity
  • Red blood cells for oxygenation
  • Platelets (thrombocytes) for clotting and growth factors

The platelets are harvested and concentrated to make up the enriched plasma. The combined blood clotting and growth factor proteins in the platelets makes them potentially useful for injury treatment. The growth factors in platelets have a healing potential in the body as they trigger cell proliferation, growth of blood vessels into the site of injury, signals certain proteins to migrate into the site thus helping to rebuild injured tissues and accelerate healing. PRP is a 5-10 times concentration of the normal number of platelets in a given amount of blood. PRP is created by first drawing blood from the patient. Once prepared, a patient’s own platelet rich fluids can be carefully injected directly into an injured area of the body, providing enhanced healing benefits. Dr. Cunningham is a shoulder and knee specialist at Vail Summit Orthopedics and Neurosurgery. When indicated, he utilizes PRP treatment for patients suffering from various knee and shoulder injuries.

What Does Platelet Rich Plasma Treat?

Platelet rich plasma treatments are indicated in some cases of tendon injury around the knee and shoulder. For example, it may be employed for the treatment of chronic patellar tendonitis or chronic quadriceps tendonitis in the knee, or for chronic rotator cuff tendonitis in the shoulder.

PRP has also been found to be helpful in alleviating the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis, or wear and tear arthritis, in the knee or shoulder. It helps decreased the inflammation, swelling and pain in an arthritic joint. It has not been shown to grow new cartilage.

Variables that may impact the benefits of PRP treatment appear to include:

  • Treatment area of the body
  • General health and fitness of the patient
  • Acute or chronic cause of injury
  • The method used to prepare the PRP
  • Whether white blood cells are added to the PRP injection.

As such, multiple conditions may be considered for PRP treatment. In addition to chronic tendon injuries, PRP may be used for certain muscle injuries around the knee or shoulder. Studies of PRP continue to demonstrate possible new areas where PRP might be useful.

How is PRP Treatment Performed?

PRP treatment begins with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis of the patient’s condition. Patient expectations are clearly communicated as to the exact nature of anticipated outcomes and the length of recovery following PRP therapy. In a clinic setting, the patient’s blood is drawn and then centrifuged. A centrifuge separates the components of blood, so that the platelets can be isolated and then concentrated. After numbing the injection site or surgically preparing the injured area, the PRP solution is injected or applied directly to the site of injury, repair, or reconstruction. The platelets will release their growth factor into the area where they were injected. This release is the catalyst for tissue renewal and cell proliferation.

The treatment may take about 30 minutes. Patients may initially have more pain as PRP initially incites an inflammatory reaction, which is the first phase of healing a tissue. Patients can expect to resume normal daily activities within a few days, but it may be 4-6 weeks until a patient notices pain relief from their chronic condition. Follow up PRP injections may be recommended in the weeks following the initial PRP injection in order to have better healing. Over the counter pain medication can be taken to relieve any post treatment pain. If severe pain develops, medical help should be sought.

Does PRP Therapy Work?

Platelet rich plasma therapy is a regenerative treatment that holds promise. PRP has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of certain chronic tendon, ligament, bone, and tissue injuries. Outcomes are variable and further research is indicated. Patients considering PRP treatment need to understand that this is newer treatment and individual patients may respond differently. PRP (or stem cell treatments) or not regulated by the FDA. As such, providers have unfortunately made unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of PRP and stem cells that have not been proven scientifically. Dr. Cunningham educates his patients about the scientifically proven benefits of these biologic treatments so patients are informed about the current state of the science.

What is the Recovery After PRP Treatment?

PRP injections are often performed in an office setting. However, PRP may be used as an adjunct in surgery. The process in the office takes about 30 minutes. Post treatment symptoms include injection site pain, bruising, tenderness, and swelling. Patients should limit activities around the treatment site for 2-3 days. Icing and elevating the site will help decrease postoperative symptoms. The time required for the treatment to take full effect may be 6 weeks as the action of the growth factors on the injury site takes time.

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What is the Cost of PRP Therapy?

Currently, insurance companies are not covering PRP in the office as insurance companies consider this treatment experimental. The cost of a PRP injection can range from $2,500 – $4,950. Some insurance companies will cover PRP if it is done in surgery to help tissues heal. Dr. Cunningham is a shoulder and knee specialist at Vail Summit Orthopedics and Neurosurgery. When indicated, he utilizes PRP treatment for patients suffering from various knee and shoulder injuries.

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Dr. Cunningham specializes in the treatment of knee, shoulder, and sports injuries.

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