Tennis ace Rafael Nadel is just one of many sport stars to rely on Platelet-Rich Plasma for swift healing
By Dr Kris Lewonowski, Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon
The world’s top athletes, whose very livelihood depends on speedy recovery from injury and pain, have highlighted the effectiveness of Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) in pain management and healing. The list of luminaries who have made successful comebacks following treatment includes Usain Bolt, Steven Gerrard, Paula Radcliffe and the world number one in men’s singles tennis, ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal. Luckily, unlike high-priced, top-secret celebrity perks, PRP is available to us non-famous folk too.
The reason behind PRP’s immense popularity is self-evident – it is natural, efficient, non-addictive and its effects don’t wear off over time, like a painkiller’s do. It harnesses the power of our body’s own blood platelets, which means there is no risk of an allergic reaction either. So, how does it work, and what can it treat?
The Science Behind PRP
PRP treatment uses our body’s own remarkable healing agents to help speed up recovery and provide pain relief. It does this by utilising our blood’s platelets, which we usually think of as clotting agents, but which also play a key role in the healing process.
During the treatment, a little of your blood is extracted and processed (spun) in a centrifuge to isolate the plasma concentrate, which is then injected back into the painful area. The platelets concentrated in this plasma contain a class of proteins, called growth factors, that are key to healing muscles, tendon, and ligaments. Our blood is normally made up of 93% red blood cells, 6% white blood cells, 1% platelets, and plasma. The concentration of platelets after processing might be five times greater in PRP than in your normal blood.
What Conditions can it Treat?
PRP works quickly, usually after a few injections, and has proved particularly effective in chronic ligament and tendon sprains where other treatments have failed. However, it is useful in treating all sorts of conditions, including:
- Lumbar spine disc pain
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Shoulder pain
- Osteoarthritis (including shoulder, hip joint, knee and ankle arthritis)
- Tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Strains (hamstring and hip) and sprains (knee and ankle)
- Patellofemoral syndrome, patellar tendonitis, Achilles’ tendonitis, plantar fasciitis
- Sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction and pain
- Lumbar and cervical facet dysfunction and pain
Is PRP an Alternative to Surgery?
PRP is a remarkable treatment, but should not be seen as a miraculous cure-all. The effectiveness will depend on the nature of the complaint and how much damage has already occurred. In mild arthritis, for example, PRP treatment could potentially stop any further degeneration, and thus prevent surgery down the line. However, in cases of severe degeneration, the aim of using PRP would primarily be to ease pain. That said, combining PRP with stem cell treatments has shown very promising results in preventing orthopaedic surgery.
How Long Will It Take to Work?
One of the main advantages of PRP treatment is its longevity – it is categorised as a permanent fix. The timeframe for seeing results will depend on the nature and seriousness of your injury, as well as which area of your body is affected. On average, most patients begin to see signs of improvement such as reduced pain or increased function within four to six weeks.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
The process of spinning the blood in the centrifuge takes only about 20 minutes, which means the treatment is not overly time-consuming. The number of injections and repeat visits will vary from case to case, of course.
I use PRP to treat patients at Novomed Centers or at our Surgical Hospital, depending on what tools I need. When the area being treated is near the spine or the extremities, for example, I do the injections with the help of imaging tools.
When I treat my patients with PRP, I advise them to avoid aggressive activity in the weeks after the injections so that the tissues can heal properly. I also warn them to avoid anti-inflammatory medications as these could interfere with the healing process. However, PRP is generally very safe as it is your own blood you are being treated with. There could initially be increased pain at the site of the injection, but other problems such as tissue damage, infection and nerve injuries appear no more serious than in the case of cortisone injections.
Finally, as part of Novomed’s Integrative Medicine approach, we don’t simply prescribe an isolated treatment. I will also look at all aspects of a patient’s lifestyle to see if any changes need to be made to enhance healing or avoid further injury or degeneration. In addition, I might recommend physiotherapy and other relevant treatments. PRP plays a starring role though – considering the minimal risks, it’s an exceptional treatment.