Platelet-rich plasma, commonly abbreviated as PRP, is an outpatient therapeutic procedure that takes advantage of the advanced healing properties of your own blood chemistry. In essence, some of your blood is drawn, conditioned and prepared into a solution for injection. The goal is to speed up the healing of various musculoskeletal conditions.
What is a PRP Injection and How is it Performed?
Although physicians follow established PRP therapy standards, no solution will ever be the same because of the vast diversity and complexity of blood chemistry. After an initial consultation to assess the health of the patient, the severity of the condition and the potential therapeutic outcome of a PRP injection, a blood sample is drawn. The sample is collected into a vial and sent out for laboratory analysis, which will involve placement in a centrifuge. The high speeds and centrifugal force result in a separation of blood into various layers, and the following will be of interest to the medical staff:
- The bottom layer consists of red blood cells, which usually make up about 45 percent of a patient’s whole blood.
- The top layer consists of plasma with a low platelet volume. Platelets are the cells that help our bodies heal in cases of bleeding. When we suffer an external cut or when an illness weakens our blood vessels, platelets are alerted so that they can jump into action and begin the cellular aggregation process commonly known as clotting. This particular layer is larger than the bottom one with the red blood cells.
- The middle layer consists of white blood cells and platelets; it is a thin layer that makes up less than 1 percent of whole blood.
Depending on the condition to be treated and the therapeutic plan, physicians will issue instructions to formulate a PRP solution for injection, and this will involve configuring the centrifuge to spin at certain speeds and times based on variables. In some cases, additives may be added to the PRP solution prior to injection. The goal is to stimulate the growth of new cells in affected areas.
Preparation for a PRP Injection
As a patient, you will be required to follow specific instructions in preparation for this treatment. The instructions will vary according to your health and the condition to be treated, but you will generally be instructed to abstain from corticosteroid medications such as Cortef, Prednisone, and Celestone for a couple of weeks prior to your outpatient appointment. Other medications that you will likely be instructed not to take include common anti-inflammatories such as Advil and Aleve.
On the day of your PRP injection appointment, your medical history will be reviewed and your overall health will be assessed. You can also expect common screening procedures such as recording of your vital signs. Since you will have to undergo imaging such as x-ray or ultrasound, you can expect to be briefed on these procedures by doctors or technicians. This will be a good time for you to ask any questions about the injection since the next step involves collecting the necessary blood.
The Platelet-Rich Plasma Injection
As its name suggests, the PRP injection solution contains a high concentration of platelets, somewhere in between 2 and 9 times the normal volume of 150,000 to 400,000 per microliter of whole blood. The precise concentration will be determined by your physicians, and there may be a limit as to how high of a platelet concentration can be reached. One of the principles of regenerative medicine is to repair or restore tissue that has been lost through disease, the aging process or congenital conditions; to this effect, a higher volume of platelets injected into affected parts of your anatomy can stimulate beneficial tissue growth.
Being injected with your own blood poses very little risk. Beyond the venipuncture sensation from the needle, patients do not report major discomfort. You may experience localized soreness after the PRP injection procedure, which lasts about 30 minutes, but it may not feel like pain, and the sensation should disappear after a couple of days.
What Happens After a PRP injection?
Aside from the aforementioned soreness, you may feel a little rigidity if the PRP injection sites involve your joints. Rest is highly recommended after the procedure, and you may also be instructed to take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Should your specific procedure require anesthetics or painkillers, you should have someone else drive you home, particularly if you have a nerve block. Any localized edema, commonly known as swelling, should dissipate in a day or so.
A full recovery from this procedure may take a few hours or a few days, but you will have to wait a couple of weeks before you start feeling the therapeutic effects. Keep in mind that the goal is for the PRP solution to help you generate new tissue; if you suffer from osteoarthritis conditions, pain relief will probably be felt a month after the injection, and it will continue to improve for the next three to six months. In the case of tendonitis and tennis elbow, you may have to wait a little longer before experiencing relief.
Is PRP Therapy Right For You?
As with other therapeutic procedures, PRP injections will work better when they are performed in the early stages of a condition. A younger patient who starts suffering from tennis elbow, for example, will benefit more from PRP injections if she has already tried physical therapy with negligible results. Patients whose intake of anti-inflammatory and corticosteroid medications has not provided relief may also be good candidates for this procedure. The best way to determine if you are a good candidate for PRP therapy is to consult with specialists, and it is better to do so before the pain and discomfort become unbearable.
To learn more about how PRP therapy can help you heal from musculoskeletal injuries, conditions affecting ligaments, and other health issues related to joints as well as connective tissues, please fill out our contact form or give us a call.