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Can Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy Heal Bone Fractures?

August 13, 2011

If you play sports, then you are at risk for a bone fracture, which is unfortunate because this sports injury could sideline you for an entire season. Is there any way you can speed up the process and get back on the playing field sooner? Platelet-rich plasma therapy might hold the key.

Short Guide to Bones

Bones make up the skeleton in your body and serve multiple functions.

  • Bones support your body against the affects of gravity and allow you to move and function in the world.
  • Bones like your ribs protect internal body parts.
  • The marrow in your bones is an important center for the production of blood products.

And I bet you never thought about your bones as being an organ, have you? They are. Bones carry a store of calcium for your body and, because of the influence of hormones, are always undergoing change.

The hormone parathyroid increases blood calcium levels by leeching calcium from bone. The hormone calcitonin has the opposite effect–it draws calcium from the blood.

Causes of a Fracture

Bones may be a solid organ, but that doesn’t mean they’re invincible.

Any time force is applied to a bone there is a potential for the bone to break. A fracture, break or crack (they all three mean the same thing) occurs when the bone cannot withstand that force.

As with any contact sport, fractures have a long history in sports medicine. Let’s look at a few common types.

Stress Fracture

Some fractures occur from overuse. These are commonly called stress fractures.

Shin splints are a common stress fracture that runners deal with. Gymnasts can also suffer from stress fractures in their feet and ankle. When a stress fracture affects the long bones of the foot it’s called a a “march fracture,” named after injuries soldiers typically suffer from repeated, long marches.

It’s the repeated pressure and micro-trauma that a bone fails to absorb that weakens the bone and eventually creates a stress fracture.

Compression Fracture

When people get older there’s the risk of developing osteoporosis, which is a condition where bones lose their calcium content. This makes bones more prone to fracturing.

Often the spine suffers a compression fracture, most notably the lumbar or thoracic spine. This occurs because we are always upright and the back eventually cannot withstand the force of gravity and so the bones start to crumble.

Rib Fracture

Ribs are bones that are designed to protect your internal organs. They are also liable to be injured when struck by a direct blow. Football players suffer from rib injuries as opponents lower their head and tackle head on.

X-rays are rarely taken when there is a rib injury since the treatment amounts to the same time. A chest x-ray might be taken to make sure that no injury has been done to a lung.

Skull Fractures

Breaks to the skull, which is the bone that protects your brain, can occur by direct blows or falls.

Can Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy Heal Your Bone Fracture?

Doctors have been using PRP therapy to aid the healing of bones after spinal injury and soft tissue recovery following plastic surgery since the mid 90s.

Wasn’t long before researchers started testing PRP therapy on sports injuries. Studies typically involved rats, and as concerns of human safety were overcome, doctors started applying it to humans.

Results have been very positive in terms of tendon-healing effects. Researchers are now working on human studies.

Eventually this type of therapy took off when pro athletes like Tiger Woods gave PRP a popularity boost. One study demonstrated that PRP was more effective at healing tennis elbow than the current treatment of corticosteroid, a class of steroid hormones to regulate inflammation induced by diseases and injuries.

Other PRP studies demonstrated varying degrees of success in speeding up the healing process of injuries like muscle tears, osteoarthritis, tendinosis, plantar faciitis and knee ligament injuries. The same is true for fractures.

Dr. Rick Lehman is a distinguished orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri and an articular cartilage reconstruction pioneer He owns U. S. Sports Medicine in Kirkwood, MO, and LehmanHealth. Learn more about Dr. Rick.

 

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