What Are Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections?
Platelet-Rich Plasma Treatments Could Help Regenerate Injured Tissue
Would you have ever thought that injecting components of your blood into the injured areas of your body could help heal you?
This treatment, also called platelet-rich plasma therapy or PRP injections, is just one of the many different ideas researchers have proposed to provide relief for ailments such as tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and other chronic tendon injuries, even osteoarthritis. Doctors spin your own blood, separate out the components, and inject some of the separated mixture back into your body. This fluid, especially when injected with outsized proportions of plasma, is projected to possess powerful healing properties that trigger our bodies to self-regeneration.
While that may sound a bit odd, platelet-rich plasma therapy is part of a fast-growing branch of medicine called regenerative medicine. We want to help you understand how such treatments work and share the current benefits and drawbacks present in this new form of medicine.
What Is Regenerative Medicine?
If you’ve heard of stem cells or stem cell therapy, then you’re familiar with the basic idea of regenerative medicine! This budding field of study — which includes practices such as stem cell therapy, tissue engineering, and the fabrication of organs — refers to the study of how our bodies can regrow, repair or replace damaged cells in our body. And scientists are examining many different therapeutic treatments.
This branch of medicine covers PRP therapy due to its proposed ability to regenerate and repair damaged tissues in our body. While stem cells can theoretically serve any function and become any type of cell within our body, experts believe platelets release certain growth factors that trigger our bodies to heal itself.
For a deeper understanding of regenerative medicine, let’s talk about platelets, where they come from, and what they could do for you.
What Are Platelets and What Is Plasma?
Named for their literal plate-like shape, platelets are the active ingredient in PRP injections. They are an essential component of our blood, as they’re responsible for clumping and clotting when we bleed. The smallest of the three main types of blood cells, platelets (also called thrombocytes) don’t contain a nucleus, as they’re actually tiny fragments of cells.
Now, why are blood-clotting platelets being used to treat injured cells?
How and why our bodies heal is a very complex subject, and platelets play an important part in that dance. Specifically, they are crucial to processes such as cellular migration, cell growth, and development of new blood vessels. This information is the basis of the science behind PRP injections.
Plasma makes up over 55% of your blood and, when separated from your blood cells, it’s light yellow in color. Not only is it the largest component of your blood, but it’s also the liquid portion of it. It is critical to your life functions, as it delivers necessary nutrients such as salts, enzymes, proteins, and antibodies throughout your body and helps remove waste.
This is the medium in which your platelets are re-injected into your body.
How Do Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections Work?
As part of your search into whether or not PRP treatments would be right for you, you should understand the details of the procedure in practice.
- We will first draw your blood.
- Your blood will be placed in a centrifuge — a machine that uses centrifugal force to separate the solids in your blood from the liquid plasma.
- As the blood spins, the platelets are suspended in the volume of the plasma creating 3-5 cc’s of platelet-rich plasma. This is what’s used for the actual treatment.
- That liquid solution is then injected into the injured tissue or arthritic joint to provide therapeutic relief.
The concentration of platelets can be up to 10 times the typical amount found in a normal volume of plasma, which increases the normal healing response and effectiveness of the treatments. This is exactly why it’s called platelet-rich plasma.
Are There Side Effects to PRP Injections?
Because this treatment requires blood to be taken from your body and put back in, there are few associated risks. As in, there is no chance you will have an allergic reaction or autoimmune response to the injections. The main side effects, although rare, include:
- Increased pain from several days to several weeks
- Pain at the site of the injection
- Nerve damage at the site of injection
Are PRP Treatments Right for You?
As an emerging form of medicine, PRP injections do show promise in initial clinical trials. However, you should first check with your physician or one of our trained physicians to determine if PRP is right for you.