Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon Mr Fahad G Attar from BMI The Alexandra Hospital gives us the lowdown on PRP injections, a new treatment used for sports injuries and painful joints.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are an innovative treatment option that has piqued the interest of clinicians, in particular those who specialise in sports medicine and regenerative therapy.
The treatment uses injections made from a patient’s own blood to encourage the healing of damaged tendons, ligaments, muscles and joints.
It has a number of applications and the production of PRP is relatively easy, making it an efficient natural therapy.
What is platelet-rich plasma?
Platelet-rich plasma, popularly known as PRP, is blood that has been processed to increase the concentration of platelets within it.
Platelets are cells that help our blood to clot. They also contain proteins called growth factors, which are known to be beneficial to our bodies’ healing process.1
What are PRP injections?
PRP injections are used most commonly in sports medicine and for orthopaedic disorders such as tendinitis and osteoarthritis.
A sample of your blood is taken to be make into PRP, which is then injected into the problem area.
PRP is known for its restorative properties, which promote the regeneration of bone, skin, muscle, tendons and cartilage. The treatment can enhance healing, reduce inflammation and improve pain and function.2
- How do you make platelet-rich plasma?
The process usually involves taking a sample of your own blood. This is then put into a centrifuge machine, which separates the blood cells from the plasma.
This process enhances the number of platelets (and therefore growth factors), increasing the concentration by 5-10 times.2
This plasma now contains a higher-than-usual concentration of platelets, growth hormones, healing factors and anti-inflammatory properties, which are injected into the area affected by disease or injury.
The whole process can be done in a clinic and usually takes about 30 minutes.
Who is eligible for PRP injections and what can they treat?
PRP is an orthopaedic treatment suitable for both sports injuries and degenerative conditions. It helps reduce pain and inflammation and improves healing and function.3 It can be used in all patients and in all age groups.
Some sports-related injuries and degenerative conditions it is commonly used for are shoulder rotator cuff tears, shoulder impingement, elbow tendinitis, cartilage injuries, early to moderate osteoarthritis, patellar tendinopathy, and Achilles tendinopathy.
PRP injections have been used as a main treatment and also in surgical augmentation procedures in which platelet-rich therapy was applied during surgery.
If conservative treatments such as pain killers and physiotherapy have failed to improve your symptoms, then PRP may be a good option for you. In my opinion it is better than using a steroid injection as steroids have side effects and risks and can potentially damage cartilage and tendons further.
It is hoped that PRP injections will provide a longer-lasting alternative to steroid injections, which only last a few weeks.4
What are the benefits of PRP injections?
PRP has been shown to have a number of benefits, especially when used after conventional methods have failed to deliver satisfactory results. It provides enhanced healing, improved pain relief and restores function5 while getting you back to sports sooner.6
PRP has minimal risks and side effects as the treatment involves taking and using your own blood.7
What should I expect during the treatment?
In our clinic, PRP begins with a consultation to understand the current condition of deterioration in or injury to your joint. Once we’ve confirmed that the therapy is suitable for you, we’ll set a date and time for your treatment.
On the day of treatment, your blood will be taken by a nurse or health assistant. This will then be processed to create the platelet-rich plasma, which will be injected directly into the affected area by your consultant.
In some instances, we will use an ultrasound machine to help us make sure we are injecting into the right place. This is completely painless.
PRP injections are a clinic-based treatment and do not require any sort of hospital stay. The injection itself takes 1-2 minutes, and the whole process is normally completed within half an hour.2
The injection itself may hurt a little, depending on how sensitive the joint is and the precise location of the injection. The injection site might be tender after the treatment but normally is not too painful. Some people develop a bruise at the site of the injection, which is normal.1
What is the recovery time like?
After PRP injections it’s important to speak to your consultant about how long you should rest for. Most people will be advised to stick to minimal activity for a few days and resume light activity after a week.2 However, your doctor will advise on the best approach for your personal needs.
There are certain things you can do in the weeks following PRP injections to increase the likelihood that the treatment will work:
- Avoid strenuous exercise, particularly movements that put weight on the affected joint.
- Avoid using anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen. These drugs can interfere with the treatment. People who need pain relief can use paracetamol or co-codamol.
- Use cold compresses to decrease swelling and reduce pain in the first couple of days following the injection.
- Maintain a healthy nutritious diet and stay hydrated. This is key to any period of recovery.
If you follow these guidelines and the advice of your doctor, you should hopefully be back at work and even driving after around a week.
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