Innovations that can help athletes to heal, thrive and enhance performance are awakening new possibilities for what the human body is capable of achieving. In fact, many athletes who have sustained serious injuries or long-term degeneration are bouncing back with help from natural, cutting-edge therapies like platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Of course, the rise of these therapies does raise concerns about blurred connections between alternative therapies and illicit practices. Is PRP for sports injuries considered blood doping? It’s an important question to ask if you’re a competitor with concerns about eligibility. Take a look at what athletes should know about PRP and blood doping.

PRP and Blood Doping: Key Things to Know

PRP’s use of injected blood draws obvious comparisons to blood doping at first glance. However, looking just a little deeper into what PRP is all about helps to quickly dispel myths about the links between PRP and illicit blood doping. It can be helpful to outline exactly what takes place during a PRP treatment before separating this very licit practice from things like blood doping. Here’s what PRP therapy entails:

  1. Collection of the Patient’s Blood: A small amount of blood that is comparable to what is drawn when donating blood is taken from the patient via collection needle.
  2. Centrifuging: The patient’s own blood is then placed in a centrifuge that spins at high speed to separate plasma from red blood cells.
  3. Processing: The facility administering the PRP treatment processes and collects the platelets following the centrifuging.
  4. Injection: The platelet-rich plasma that has been separated from the rest of the patient’s blood is now injected at the site of the injured tissue. A physician will sometimes use ultrasound to guide the injection.

The benefit of PRP therapy is that the plasma that is injected contains five times as many platelets as regular blood. These platelets help to release growth factor in larger, more concentrated amounts to speed up healing and regeneration. While the plasma comes from the patient’s own blood, it would be impossible for platelets to congregate naturally in such large concentrations without the intermediary injection.

What Makes PRP Treatments Different From Blood Doping?

With blood doping, the goal is to increase the amount of red blood cells in the bloodstream to enhance physical performance. The reason why this creates an advantage is that red blood cells help to carry oxygen to the muscles. When more red blood cells are injected, the athlete gains a competitive physical advantage because muscles are able to work more efficiently without fatigue. In some cases, athletes who practice blood doping will use blood from other people.

There are some very strong distinctions to be drawn between PRP therapy and blood doping. The first is that PRP therapy is a long-term restorative treatment that is intended to heal tissue injuries. It could take weeks for a person to see improvements following a PRP injection. Generally, PRP does not create instant performance enhancements.

Another contrast is that platelet-rich plasma is injected directly into the tissue surrounding the injury. Again, this is done for the sake of taking a long-term approach to helping the body to heal naturally using its own platelets. Blood doping involves injecting blood directly into the bloodstream for an immediate boost in performance.

Bolstering the argument that PRP is a genuine restorative therapy is the fact that this treatment is not used exclusively by athletes. PRP therapy is legally available to people from all walks of life attempting to heal holistically and naturally following an injury. The most important thing to know is that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has made a ruling on PRP therapy.

WADA initially did not have an opinion on PRP therapy due to the fact that this treatment does not necessarily provide an athlete with any immediate benefits for altering performance in a way that might be deemed to be “cheating.” WADA correctly viewed PRP treatment as healing therapy. However, the agency was eventually compelled to release a ruling on PRP therapy due to growing popularity. The current stance of WADA is that athletes are allowed to utilize PRP treatments on an unrestricted basis. The only condition to be met is that athletes must be utilizing PRP therapy for the purpose of restoring an injured tissue area to the pre-injury performance level. By contrast, blood doping is strictly banned by WADA. WADA’s decision to allow athletes to utilize PRP treatments has been widely praised by physicians who are seeing the benefits that this option provides for both athletes and non-athletes when healing from injuries.

Why Is PRP Safe When Blood Doping Is Dangerous?

In addition to providing an athlete with an unfair advantage, blood doping also poses serious health risks for a person of any age. In fact, people who engage in blood doping put themselves at serious risk for a number of short-term and long-term health consequences. The dangers of blood doping include:

  • Blood clots.
  • Heart attack.
  • Stroke.
  • Autoimmune disorders.
  • Cerebral embolism
  • Pulmonary embolism.
  • Heart disease.

The main reason why blood doping is so dangerous is that it thickens the blood. This is where you get the risks for so many different cardiovascular and cerebral issues. Additionally, athletes who use blood from other people put themselves at risk for contracting a number of diseases. Even athletes who engage in blood doping using their own blood open themselves up to risks for infections and other issues if the blood is not handled and stored impeccably.

PRP and Blood Doping: Why There’s No Comparison Here

While PRP and blood doping both involve the use of blood, the two practices are extremely different. This is confirmed by the wide acceptance of PRP treatments as a safe, licit treatment for sports injuries. In fact, PRP’s use of a patient’s own blood helps to boost the safety of this option by reducing risks of rejection and infection.

While many high-profile athletes have turned to PRP in recent years to heal sports injuries, this treatment has actually been used with success since the 1970s. Yes, it’s true that PRP can be extremely beneficial for athletes who have endured serious tissue injuries during their long careers. However, the benefits can be just as potent for “everyday people” and “weekend warriors” seeking to heal injuries. PRP therapy is now a mainstream, widely used treatment that is proving to be a safe and effective way to enjoy a holistic option for healing. One of the main benefits of PRP is that it is a noninvasive alternative to therapy. People who opt to try PRP before going through with surgery may be able to save thousands and thousands of dollars while also eliminating the need for post-surgery downtime. The bottom line is that people who are interested in PRP treatments should not confuse this very legitimate therapy with something like blood doping. If you have more questions about why PRP is very different from blood doping, speaking with a treatment provider to learn about the PRP process is the next step!