Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu used their own blood in an innovative injury treatment before winning the Super Bowl. Major league pitchers, professional soccer players and hundreds of recreational athletes have also undergone the procedure, which is called platelet-rich plasma therapy.
Experts in sports medicine say that it could eventually improve the treatment of stubborn injuries like tennis elbow and knee tendonitis.
The technique involves injecting portions of a patient’s blood directly into the injured area, which catalyzes the body’s instincts to repair muscle, bone and other tissue. It even appears to help regenerate ligament and tendon fibers, which could shorten rehabilitation time and possibly eliminate the need for surgery. New York Times February 16, 2009
Platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP) involves injecting platelets, which release proteins and other particles involved in your body’s self-healing process, near an injured area of your body.
The solution contains from three to 10 times the platelets in normal blood, and appears to trigger the growth of new soft tissue or bone cells. And because the blood comes from the patient’s own body, there is little risk of side effects or adverse reactions.
So far PRP seems to be a much less invasive and inexpensive alternative to the surgery often used for tendonitis and other athletic injuries. And it’s shortened recovery time dramatically among the handful of professional athletes who have tried it.
Though this therapy is still new, researchers say it shows promise and doctors in the United States, India, Sweden and elsewhere are currently conducting trials using PRP with rotator-cuff shoulder strains, partial knee-ligament tears and bone fractures.
Already one study published in 2006 in The American Journal of Sports Medicine found that patients who received PRP therapy for tennis elbow had a 60 percent improvement in pain measurements two months later, compared to just 16 percent for the control group.
The process is actually similar to autologous platelet gel, an innovative gel made from patient’s own blood cells, which heals wounds faster and more effectively than antibiotics.
In the case of PRP, the treatment may save countless athletes, from professionals to those who enjoy being active in their spare time, the risks, expense and often ineffective results of surgery.