BY: NEIL BEDOLLA
Athletes across all professional leagues know it, though they certainly won’t express it. From the minute they set foot on the court, take the field, or throw a pitch, their biological clock is ticking. As they age, they are more prone to injuries, the pressure to cash in on multimillion dollar deals increases and the window of opportunity decreases. However, all hope is not lost. The fountain of youth may have finally been discovered through an innovative new procedure called Platelet-Rich-Plasma therapy (PRP). The simple and minimally invasive procedure is becoming a preferred alternative to surgery because of its benefits and shorter recovery time. PRP therapy accelerates the healing of tendon injuries and osteoarthritis by using a patient’s own blood to heal the injured area, according to the Orthohealing Center in Los Angeles.
A sample of the patient’s blood is taken and placed in a centrifuge. The platelets are extracted and injected in the injured area, which are then activated in the body causing a release of healing proteins called growth factors. As a result, these growth factors dramatically increase tissue recovery.
Many critics question the effectiveness of PRP therapy and argue that there isn’t enough research to attribute the benefits to this therapy. After all, physicians are essentially aggravating an injury by sticking a needle in the injured area. The therapy is difficult to comprehend, Dr. Pedram Aslmand of the Advanced Foot and Ankle Center in Long Beach explains.
“PRP increases the likelihood of your body’s natural (healing) response,” Aslmand said. “This is done by getting some inflammation going and re-starting the healing process.”
Contrary to belief, inflammation is a good thing when it comes to tendon-related injuries. When an injury is left untreated and inflammation subsides this creates scar tissue and as a result limits mobility. Injuries should also be treated in a timely manner.
“When you get injured treat it and don’t let it linger,” Aslmand said. “The longer you wait the longer the healing process will take. A lot of the patients that don’t do well with PRP are the ones that have waited so long.”
At the moment, PRP is not covered by insurance because it’s still in the investigational stages. A single treatment can range from $500-$2000, depending on the extent of the injury. The treatment takes substantially less time than surgery, rarely exceeding an hour and a half.
PRP also has few side-effects and is less traumatic when compared to other alternatives like surgery.
“The beautiful thing about PRP is that the chances of having any kind of complication are almost zero,” said Dr. John Simmonds, medical director of Plasmagenix. “You are using your body’s own cells so the likelihood of developing an infection is close to zero. You might hit a blood vessel or nerve but it’s very unlikely.”
While it can be an alternative to surgery for some tendon-related injures, it is not the first method utilized.
“PRP is not a magic pill and is more for chronic injuries,” said Aslmand. “I utilize PRP for the patients that have tried a non-PRP approach. I give them the conventional methods like rest, ice, anti-inflammatory injection and immobilization, and [if] after 2-3 months I notice it is becoming chronic then we do PRP.” Recent attention has been drawn to PRP because of its use among high profile athletes, but it has been in the medical field for quite some time now.
“PRP was originally used by a cardiologist in an open heart procedure,” said Simmonds. “It has been used for wound healing, in the dermatological field, and also in the dental community.”
Currently PRP is best utilized for the treatment of tendon-related injuries, but its potential for influencing other treatments is increasing.
“Medicine and technology are advancing so rapidly, we are looking into more conservative treatments,” said Aslmand. “We are heading into treatments that are less invasive and utilize our bodies own ability to heal itself.”