We’ve heard about professional athletes who’ve had miraculous reductions in pain after receiving injections of Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) — for example, Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won the Super Bowl in 2009 only a short time after undergoing this innovative treatment. While PRP is new enough that health insurance companies still aren’t reimbursing for it, it’s becoming more widely available to recreational athletes through sports medicine clinics. And the results are promising.
The Platelet Rich Plasma treatment involves removing a syringe of the patient’s own blood and then spinning it in a centrifuge to separate out “platelet-rich plasma” from the blood’s other components. Just the PRP is injected back into the patient. At this point, PRP’s principal use among recreational athletes has been for situations involving tendonitis — such as Achilles tendon issues or tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow. When I experienced tennis elbow five years ago, I was fortunate to be able to rid myself of the problem by taking several months off, getting accupuncture, physical therapy and Graston. This time, however, I just couldn’t shake it. My doctor and I decided it was time for either elbow surgery or PRP.
Platelet Rich Plasma is clearly less invasive than elbow surgery, and if it doesn’t work, you still can do surgery later. Sometimes doctors even combine PRP with a surgical procedure to speed healing. But since studies have shown that up to 93% of patients experienced a reduction in pain with PRP, I figured I might as well start with that.
The procedure itself was easy enough. My orthopedic surgeon, Allan Mishra, M.D., is also the physician who pioneered the use of PRP for chronic tendonitis. For him, my tennis elbow was a routine case. The PRP injection itself wasn’t painful, but the one to numb my elbow beforehand required some deep breathing. A piece of advice: it’s best not to look at the needle. It has to be long enough to reach down to your tendon.
Dr. Mishra explains what PRP is in this video:
My arm was stiff and somewhat swollen for two or three days. Two weeks later, however, it felt pretty good. Now I have specific strengthening exercises. The main downside for me, however, is that I’m not supposed to play tennis for at least two or three months. I guess recreational athletes are subject to a different protocol than professionals who’re in top shape and make millions of dollars a year for playing their sports. Oh well.
PRP holds exciting prospects for healing, but not everyone loves it. Some people don’t benefit from the treatment and still need surgery, and some doctors are questioning whether PRP really works. However, Medicare is now covering the use of Platelet Rich Plasma in clinical trials to treat chronic wounds such as diabetic and pressure wounds. This may be the first step towards greater acceptance and overall insurance coverage of the procedure.
In the meantime, I’m hopeful that PRP will help me return to playing tennis without pain in my arm.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a cutting-edge application of Platelet Rich Plasma, look no further than the Internet. Apparently some cosmetic surgeons are using PRP as a next-generation replacement for fillers like Juvederm and Radiesse — specifically, it’s gaining popularity in a procedure called “The Dracula Facelift.”
Maybe I’ll get a second treatment and see if they’ll also tighten up my cheeks in time for Halloween!