-by Dr. Maria Karipidis Pouria, MD, FAAP, CAQ sports medicine, FACP
As an athlete, or someone who regularly engages in exercise and sport activities, it is hard to be sidelined by injury or pain. Platelet-rich plasma, or PRP, injections are a popular option to help your body heal faster, allowing you to be active again.
Why Platelet-Rich Plasma?
There is a rapidly growing body of evidence supporting the use of platelet-rich plasma in treating many sports injuries or painful conditions involving joints, tendons, ligaments, and bone. This orthobiologic treatment contains growth factors, cytokines, and platelets. Growth factors are a critical component of the human body’s natural healing mechanisms.
A small sample of blood is collected, similar to a lab draw, which is then spun in an FDA-approved centrifuge to isolate the plasma and platelets. A typical blood specimen contains only 6% platelets. In comparison, platelet-rich plasma contains 94% of platelets and 5 to 10 times the concentration of growth factors found in normal blood. These activated and highly-concentrated platelets are then injected directly into the site of injured or diseased body tissue under precise ultrasound guidance. This process releases growth factors that stimulate and increase the number of reparative cells the body produces.
What Sports Injuries Can Be Treated?
PRP injections are safe and effective for treating many sports injuries. These include:
- Lateral epicondylitis, otherwise known as extensor tendonitis or “tennis elbow”:
- The extensor tendons of the forearm may become inflamed with overuse and repetitive stress with activities such as tennis and rock climbing. This condition also commonly occurs in cooks, assembly line workers, painters, carpenters or those who engage in repetitive arm movement.
- There is poor blood supply to this area which often results in incomplete or delayed healing.
- PRP has been extensively studied in elbow tendinopathy and has shown efficacy in restoring function and decreasing pain.
- Partial rotator cuff tears or tendinopathy:
- Repetitive arm movements in sports like baseball, tennis, basketball, golf, and swimming predispose and increase the risk of rotator cuff injuries.
- Full thickness or retracted tears often require surgery, however partial tears, tendinitis, and bursitis have supportive evidence for PRP injections.
- Patellar tendinopathy:
- An overuse condition that is often seen in athletes who participate in running and jumping sports that require fast, repetitive, high-force contractions of the quadriceps muscles. These sports may include football, volleyball, tennis, soccer, long jump, and CrossFit.
- Platelet-rich plasma injections in conjunction with a graded strength training plan through physical therapy have demonstrated a quicker recovery time and return to sport. PRP helps in patellar tendinopathy by reducing inflammation and swelling around the tendon, promoting healing of the tendon tissue, thereby reducing pain and discomfort.
Are PRP Injections Right For Me?
Platelet-rich plasma injections have shown to have excellent regenerative potential to accelerate cellular remodeling and reduce the healing time in athletic injuries. A consultation with a board-certified sports medicine specialist is an ideal option for athletes looking to alleviate their symptoms and return to their sport when conservative treatments have failed.