Post-traumatic arthritis. Tennis elbow. Hamstring tear. These are a few of the sports injuries that doctors are treating with platelet-rich plasma injections.
But PRP injections are also proving effective treatments for those who suffer from knee arthritis and other non-sports related injuries.
If you’ve been reading my posts for long you’ve no doubt heard me talk about PRP therapy and it’s relation to sports medicine. One thing I’ve never done, however, is explain the steps behind an actual procedure. I want to take that time right now to do that.
Step One: Consultation
The very first thing I do with the patient is consult with them. We talk about the injury, the cause, the level of pain, the history. I want as much information as I possibly can.
As a side note: Usually at this stage I discover that this is a last-ditch effort for the patient. They’ve exhausted all other approaches and want to avoid surgery. See my final thoughts to see why this important.
Step Two: Draw Blood
Next we draw blood from the patient. Usually about 20 to 60 ccs.
Step Three: Spin the Blood
We then take that blood and put it into a centrifuge. That centrifuge spins the blood, separating it into three different layers: the platelet-poor layer, the buffy coat (which contains the platelets and white blood cells) and the red blood cells. It’s that middle layer that will be injected.
Step Four: Anesthetize the Injury Area
While the blood is being spun, our next step is to clean the sight and numb the area around the joint.
Step Five: Inject the Plasma
The final step consists of actually injecting the plasma into the injured area. We use an ultra sound machine to guide the needle to make sure we are injecting the fluid in the appropriate place.
The entire procedure takes less than 15 minutes. It’s an in-office visit and patients can usually drive themselves to and from our clinic.
Is PRP Therapy Safe?
Yes, little evidence exists to definitely prove that plasma injections can have a positive impact on healing, but in my own work and many of my colleagues I’ve seen tremendous outcomes.
Patients with six-week old injuries recover more rapidly as do patients who’ve been suffering from a decade old injury. Age of injury or patient doesn’t matter.
It is important that you explore all of your alternatives first because most insurance companies will not cover this procedure. However, if you’ve exhausted all of your options and the next step is surgery, investigating whether plasma injections are right for you is a good thing to do before surgery.
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.