Platelet-rich Plasma (PRP)

During the past several years, much has been written about a preparation called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and its potential effectiveness in the treatment of injuries. Many famous athletes have received PRP for various problems, such as sprained knees and chronic tendon injuries. These types of conditions have typically been treated with medications, physical therapy or even surgery. Some athletes have credited PRP with their being able to return more quickly to competition.

What is Platelet-rich Plasma (PRP)?

Although blood is mainly a liquid (called plasma), it also contains small solid components (red cells, white cells, and platelets.) The platelets are best known for their importance in clotting blood. However, platelets also contain hundreds of proteins called growth factors which are very important in the healing of injuries.

PRP is plasma with many more platelets than what is typically found in blood. The concentration of platelets — and, thereby, the concentration of growth factors — can be 5 to 10 times greater than usual.

How Does PRP Work?

Although it is not exactly clear how PRP works, laboratory studies have shown that the increased concentration of growth factors in PRP can potentially speed up the healing process. To speed healing, the injury site is treated with the PRP preparation.

Platelets are blood cells with several roles to play in the body. One is to promote blood clotting so that a person does not excessively bleed when they are cut. Another is to contain proteins in the blood that help wounds to heal. Researchers theorize that by injecting areas of inflammation or tissue damage with high concentrations of platelets, it can encourage wounds to heal.

A small blood sample is taken from the person being treated and put into a centrifuge or other specialized device that spins at high speed. This process separates platelets from other blood components. The concentration of platelets is then injected into the area of the person's body that needs to be treated. Because the injection contains a high concentration of platelets, which can be from 5 to 10 times more than the untreated blood, doctors theorize that the platelets will speed up healing.

What are the purposes of PRP injections?

Researchers are trying out PRP injections across a number of applications. Examples of these include:

  • Hair Loss
  • Tendon Injuries
  • Acute Injuries
  • Postsurgical repair
  • Osteoarthritis

What are the potential side effects of PRP?

Because PRP involves injecting a substance into the skin, there are potential side effects. PRP is autologous, which means it contains substances that come directly from your own body. This reduces the risks for an allergic reaction that can occur from injecting other medications, such as cortisone or hyaluronic acid. However, there are risks from the injection itself, including:

  • infection
  • nerve injuries
  • pain at the injection site
  • tissue damage

You should discuss these potential risks with your doctor, as well as the steps your doctor will take to minimize these risks.