The ideal sports medicine tool would be effective, simple to use, inexpensive, safe, and immediately available. Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) meets these criteria. PRP is autologous, meaning that the potential for adverse reactions and infection is very low. Furthermore, compared to surgery or stem cells, PRP is relatively inexpensive, quick, and fairly simple.
What is PRP?
Firstly, a medical professional draws a blood sample from the patient. This sample is placed in a centrifuge where the components are separated. Specifically, the centrifuge partitions layers of blood, such as white blood cells, red blood cells, plasma, and platelets. Once the centrifuge is complete, the doctor, often using ultrasound as guidance for accuracy, will administer the PRP injection into the site of the injury.
By definition, PRP must contain a higher concentration of platelets than baseline blood. There are, however, many other variables in the make-up of PRP that will lead to different properties and possibly effectiveness. Since the procedure is autologous (using the patient’s own blood) there are very minimal side effects. This practically makes the procedure available to anyone experiencing pain.
Why PRP Works in Orthopedic Sports Medicine:
Athletes are the earliest adopters of novel treatments. Their livelihoods are at risk if they miss games, fights, seasons, etc. and therefore need to stay on the cutting edge of technology. Due to this, athletes are driven to find less invasive methods of injury managment and a faster recovery time. This is why they’ve turned to PRP and continue to do so time and time again.
Most recently, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier underwent PRP to “really speed up the [healing] process.” However, he is not alone. There have been a number of high profile athletes to utilize the healing benefits of PRP.
Compared to corrective surgery, PRP is minimally invasive and simple to produce. Our medical team at Metropolitan Pain Consultants is able to create PRP from small amounts of blood in a short period of time (less than an hour in total). No need to send the material out for processing or culturing, platelet-rich plasma is an outpatient procedure.
Platelet-Rich Plasma for Sports Injuries:
Chances are if you made it thus far in your research, you are curious about what injuries PRP can help heal. The good news is, the list of sports related injuries PRP can treat continues to grow each year as doctors find more ways to utilize this treatment. So let’s dive in and take a look at three common injuries and how PRP can help.
Rotator Cuff Tears:
Regenerative medicine for rotator cuff injuries is a common alternative to invasive surgery. Many sports place your rotator cuff at risk for injury, so nonsurgical treatments are becoming more commonplace. For more information, we wrote extensively on common boxing injuries and common golf injuries – two sports where the rotator cuff is susceptible to injury.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, rotator cuff tears are one of the most common sources of shoulder pain and disability. The number of rotator cuff tears continues to climb as the aging population increases sports activity. However, this injury is also common in young athletes who use the flexion tendon repeatedly (a pitcher, for example).
While the most common treatment is arthroscopic rotator cuff repair (RCR), studies show that this treatment is unreliable.
“Despite continued advances in fixation techniques, [surgically] repaired tendons exhibit inferior mechanical properties that are susceptible to re-tear.”
PRP is continually used during RCR in an attempt to enhance and accelerate the repair process. When PRP is used in conjunction with RCR, re-tear rates significantly decrease. Moreover, depending on the severity of the injury, PRP can be used without invasive surgery. Due to its regenerative properties, platelet-rich plasma is able to boost the body’s natural responses to an injury. This, in turn, will heal the injured site.
Although the disease is normally associated with aging, trauma to the cartilage or joint may result in osteoarthritis in younger patients. This is particularly common amongst athletes in contact sports. While some collisions may not lead to noticeable damage, post-traumatic arthritis may cause pain over time. Thankfully, platelet-rich plasma is a fairly common treatment for knee osteoarthritis. All five stages of osteoarthritis are treatable, however, PRP is most effective during the earlier stages of osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common musculoskeletal disorder, with an estimated prevalence of 27 million Americans. The knee is commonly symptomatic, resulting in pain and disability. With proper use of PRP, patient’s can stave off the need for any form of surgery.
Reports show significant improvement in PRP patients during 2 to 12 months post injection. While each patient and degenerative change is unique, most individuals only need between 1 to 3 injections. A small amount of physical therapy may be prescribed for those with more severe stages of OA.
Since it is a degenerative disease, the aim of PRP therapy is to relieve pain and discomfort while strengthening muscles and maintaining range of motion. As long as you are not adding too much stress to the diseased joint, keeping them active will help keep them healthy.
According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, “half of all sports medicine injuries in children and teens are from overuse.”
Overuse injuries are typically caused by repeated motions in the arm, forearm, hand, or shoulder. The most common examples of sports with overuse injuries is baseball, swimming, and tennis. A pitcher, for example, who repeats the same throwing motion well over 50 times a game is at risk of overuse. The constant repetition wears down the elbow. This is why baseball has implemented a pitch count rule.
Swimming is a low-impact fitness activity and sport. It is part of the reason for its popularity. However, most people aren’t aware of the stress swimming places on the shoulders. “Swimming shoulder” occurs when the joint undergoes the constant arching motion. Even minor tears can lead to rotator cuff injuries and shoulder instability (when the joint doesn’t work to maintain the ball and socket).
“Tennis elbow” is a common term for a condition caused by overuse of arm, forearm, and hand muscles that results in elbow pain. The term came into use because it is commonly associated with tennis players, but you don’t have to play tennis to get it. Tennis elbow is caused by injury of the muscle and tendon area outside of the elbow. Specifically, it involves the area where the muscles and tendons of the forearm attach to the outside of the elbow. “Golfer’s elbow” is the same process occurring on the inside of the elbow.
Overuse injuries, as a whole, mostly affects people in their dominant arm. Nevertheless, it can also occur in the nondominant arm. People who participate in leisure or work activities that require repetitive arm, elbow, wrist, and hand movements are also subject to overuse injuries.
Potential Overuse Symptoms:
- Menial tasks such as brushing your teeth comes with a sharp pain in the injured area
- Pain slowly increases around the outside of the injured joint
- Pain is worse when stabilizing or moving the injured joint – lifting, using tools, opening items, etc.
Athletes Who Have Received Regenerative Medicine:
- Rafael Nadal (Tennis)
- John Terry (Soccer)
- Dez Bryant (NFL)
- Mark Schlereth (NFL)
- Hines Ward (NFL)
- Troy Polamalu (NFL)
- Ron Egloff (NFL)
- A.J. Burnett (MLB)
- Chris Capuano (MLB)
- Mike Gonzalez (MMA)
- Daniel Cormier (UFC)
- Michelle Wie (Golf)
- Daron Rahlves (Olympic Skier)
- Gretchen Ho (Volleyball)
PRP Injection for Other Injuries:
For the purposes of this article, we have attempted to go in depth on a several key sports related injuries. If you are interested in learning more about PRP for certain types of injuries, we’ve written a number of articles on the following:
Metropolitan Pain Consultants specializes in reducing and eliminating pain for our patients to help restore their ability to work and live as they desire. We strive to provide each patient with state of the art care in a compassionate and professional environment. You can find us in West Orange, Aberdeen, Clifton, and Lyndhurst.