One of the most common questions I hear from patients is, “Is there anything else you can do for me besides surgery?” Well, until recently the honest answer was “no.” If a patient had tried everything (therapy, cortisone shots, medication) and he or she was still experiencing pain, usually the only treatment available was surgery.
Now, however, there is a third option. Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections are widely used by thousands of orthopedists, physiatrists and pain specialists to treat dozens of painful, stubborn conditions caused by chronic inflammation, like tendinitis, bursitis and arthritis.
For many years, scientists have known that platelets and growth factors found in blood plasma were responsible for healing acutely damaged tissue. When you break a bone, tear a muscle or cut your skin, it’s your platelets and repair enzymes that respond immediately to stop the bleeding, stabilize the injured area and begin the repair process.
A few years ago, researchers wondered, what if we inject concentrated platelets and plasma into chronically damaged tissue? Could this process also repair that tissue? After all, it’s chronically damaged tissue that’s responsible for the majority of chronic musculoskeletal pain.
After many years of investigation, they discovered that a small amount of carefully concentrated plasma with platelets, injected into chronically damaged tissue, can cure the inflammation and pain permanently in the majority of cases.
I started using PRP injections two years ago, and what I found astonished me. Patient after patient with chronic pain from lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), plantar fasciitis (heel spurs) and many other inflammatory conditions, who were treated with PRP, were avoiding surgery permanently and returning to normal activities, pain-free.
This is how it works: Blood is drawn and placed in a special vial in a centrifuge. Five minutes later, the concentrated plasma is ready to be injected into the painful tissue, using local anesthesia. The entire process takes about 20 minutes and the patient is allowed to return to all activities without restrictions. Best of all, since the injection is made up only of cells obtained from the patient, there is no chance of side effects or limits on how many injections the patient can receive. In most cases, only two injections are needed for complete pain relief.
Most insurance plans, including Medicare, pay for the entire treatment, even if it takes several injections to cure the problem. This makes sense, since the alternative often is a costly surgery.
By Dr. Duncan Wells, contributing writer, board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and founder and president of Atlas Orthopaedics.