Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) is an example of proliferative therapy that we’ve discussed on this blog before. The treatment is useful for many musculoskeletal disorders, ranging from lingering tendon, ligament, and muscle injuries (e.g. hamstring and rotator cuff tears) to joint pain (e.g. knees and hips). We at Lake Washington Sports and Spine tend to recommend PRP after other conservative measures, particularly physical therapy or chiropractic care, have not produced meaningful results.
PRP is one of many treatments that we perform in the office, but it is one of the more time-intensive ones. This is due to the nature of the therapy itself. When we perform other injections in our office, medications are drawn from vials then injected into a patient. However, with PRP, the medication comes from the patient! Our blood is not just a homogenous red substance that courses through our veins. There are many types of cells in our blood – which include, but are not limited to – cells that carry oxygen, others that fight off infection, and the ones we are most concerned about: the healing factors.
These healing-inducing cells include platelets, as you probably guessed by the name of the therapy. The portion of plasma containing platelets - as well as other healing factors - is obtained by spinning blood in a centrifuge for 15 minutes, which separates the different aspects of the blood into distinct layers. The platelet-rich concentration is extracted from the resulting vial of separated blood, and injected under ultrasound guidance into the site of injury. This not only concentrates healing factors near the injured area (exactly where it needs to be), but also causes an inflammatory cascade which brings its own set of healing responses.
What can you do to prepare for the procedure itself?
1. Come early. Coming in 30 minutes prior to your appointment start time allows us to perform all the steps (draw, centrifuge, and platelet extraction) before the actual injection without making your appointment run late. It also gives us a time buffer in case we run into any issues during the blood collection. Additionally, this time is beneficial to patients as it gives them a time to relax between the blood draw and the injection. If you do not arrive 30 minutes early, there is a chance your procedure will need to be rescheduled.
2. Hydrate! Water is an important component of blood, and makes it much easier for any healthcare professional to draw blood from your arm. Your veins are fuller (making it easier to perform the actual blood draw) and your blood moves quicker (less time with a needle in your arm!).
What do you need to do after the procedure?
1. Rest and get more sleep. Sleep is a wonderful thing, so I feel strange having to recommend it. But many patients do not get enough sleep, and lack of sleep can have a very detrimental effect on your healing rate. Use this procedure as an excuse to get more restful sleep. I recommend using your recovery phase from this procedure as a jumping off point to establish a good sleep routine you can use when you’re back to your fully functional self.
2. Limit forceful weight bearing and movements with excessive range-of-motion. Imagine a glob of peanut butter sandwiched between two saltine crackers. Now imagine squeezing the crackers together and spilling the peanut butter onto the floor. You don’t want peanut butter on the floor, just like how you don’t want the Platelet-Rich Plasma anywhere other than where your injury is located. The general idea behind PRP therapy is to concentrate healing factors into a specific, targeted area. An excessive contraction of a muscle, or movement of a joint past normal range-of-motion, can “squeeze” the platelets away from the targeted area. For some cases when the PRP is meant for a lower body part, we may recommend being on crutches for two weeks to really ensure the PRP stays where it should.
3. NO NSAIDs.
4. I repeat, NO NSAIDs. Your body’s natural response to injury is to cause inflammation. We typically only associate inflammation with pain, which is why people often take an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like ibuprofen or naproxen (e.g. Advil, Aleve). However, inflammation also triggers a healing response by the body. PRP therapy will cause some inflammation and therefore may increase a patient’s pain level for the first two weeks. This is a completely normal part of the healing cascade, and is temporary. Taking NSAIDs to alleviate the temporary pain will reduce the likelihood of having a more permanent recovery. Do not sabotage your ultimate goal of getting back to fully functional activity for some temporary relief. Keep your end goal in mind!
5. Ice if necessary, Tylenol if necessary. If you’ve been to our office, you know that we extol the benefits of ice like we’re the ice farmers of Frozen. We recommend ice as our first-line pain reliever, as ice has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation without having to take medication. However, PRP might be the only instance we recommend discretion when icing. As I’ve said previously, forms of proliferative therapy cause inflammation, so icing is counter to what the therapy is trying to accomplish. Therefore, we recommend icing only when completely necessary and the pain in unbearable. You can also try acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol), as that is a non-NSAID pain reliever.
And that’s it! This is only a general overview, and I’m sure you might have more questions. The doctors here at Lake Washington Sports and Spine always have a consultation with a patient to review the appropriateness of PRP for a given patient, the risks involved, and potential outcomes. They are more than happy to answer any and all questions you may have regarding this procedure at that time.