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Could Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy Heal Your Sports Injury?

May 1, 2011

When Tiger Woods admitted during a long press conference that he received an experimental medical treatment to combat a sore knee, platelet rich plasma therapy finally got the attention it deserved.

And since then, PRP therapy has gained a following.

Professional athletes like Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward, New York Giant Defensive tackle Chris Canty and Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee have received the treatment and declare the effectiveness of the treatment.

Even amateur athletes—from runners to competitive cheerleaders, from lacrosse to soccer players—are clamoring for the treatment, hoping to treat tennis elbow, torn ligaments and sore backs.

However, the question remains: does it effectively treat these injuries? And can it treat your injury? First, let’s describe what platelet-rich plasma therapy is.

What Is Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy?

PRP therapy starts by drawing blood from an athlete, then spinning that blood in a centrifuge until there is a concentration of plasma cells and growth factors. That substance is then injected into the athlete’s injured tissue.

In theory, the substance speeds healing and improves the tissues health.

According to a Scientific American article, “PRP injections in his elbow may have been the reason that Los Angeles Dodgers’s pitcher Takashi Saito was able to return to the mound for the 2008 Major League Baseball playoffs.”

Is PRP Therapy a Successful Treatment?

Since the mid-1990s doctors used PRP therapy to successfully aid bone healing after spinal injury and soft tissue recovery following plastic surgery.

Then researchers started experimenting with sports-related injuries. Additional studies involved animals such as rats and mice. Results have been very positive in terms of tendon-healing effects. Researchers are now working on human studies.

But ever since top athletes gave PRP a popularity boost, researchers are trying to keep up.

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 , Achilles tendinosis, plantar faciitis and knee ligament injuries.

Some doctors, like John Greco, head team physician for Alabama A&M Universaity and orthopedic surgeon at TOC, support PRP thearpy. Dr. Greco says, “If you believe in a holistic manner of treatment then PRP is a natural way to help the body jump start the healing process.”

Will PRP Therapy Work for You?

There’s no question: scientists aren’t yet clear about what makes PRP work, even with the anecdotal stories of its healing potential and minimized side-effects of healing. But if quality of life and avoiding the rigors of surgical repair are important to you—whether you are a professional or amateur athlete—then PRP therapy could be a viable option for you.

But there’s a hitch: only after conventional treatment methods have failed should you evaluate PRP therapy for your sports injury.

In fact, the International Olympic Committee issued a cautionary note on PRP therapy: “Proceed with caution in the use of P.R.P. in athletic sporting injuries” because “We believe more work on the basic science needs to be undertaken.”

Let me know if you have any questions.

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