Orthobiologics Part 1 – What Are Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections in Sports Medicine?

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy is a form of regenerative medicine that utilizes the body’s ability to repair itself. For several decades, this innovative non-surgical treatment has been used to treat a variety of medical conditions, including several orthopedic applications.  Professional athletes and world-class competitors have benefited tremendously from this revolutionary treatment, but PRP injections may be considered to address the painful cycle of injury, degeneration, scarring and re-injury that active individuals of all levels can experience throughout their life.

What injuries and conditions can be treated with PRP injections?

Platelet-rich plasma therapy has shown particular promise for treating chronic tendon injuries, which are typically slow to heal due to their limited blood supply. Although rest, physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and cortisone injections can help relieve the pain associated with a tendon injury, these treatments do not aggressively enhance the healing process.  What’s more, a tendon that is repeatedly exposed to cortisone may weaken, making the injury worse. Platelet-rich plasma therapy may be an alternative to surgery for a patient who has tried traditional non-surgical treatments without success.

For example, a sports medicine specialist might suggest PRP injections to promote the healing of:

  • Rotator cuff tendinosis
  • Gluteal tendinosis
  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
  • Golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis)
  • Achilles tendinosis
  • Jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis)
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • A strained muscle, such as a hamstring

Experts are somewhat less certain about the effectiveness of PRP injections for treating other musculoskeletal conditions, such as ligament injuries and osteoarthritis, however, research studies are ongoing and the results achieved thus far are promising.

Who is a candidate for PRP injections?

Platelet-rich plasma therapy may be a good option for an athlete or active individual who has a painful soft tissue injury and:

  • Is in overall good health
  • Does not have active cancer
  • Does not have a blood-related condition, such as leukemia or severe anemia
  • Is not currently on anticoagulation therapy
  • Does not have an active infection at the injury site
  • Does not smoke or otherwise use tobacco products

A physician’s treatment recommendations could be influenced by other factors as well. For instance, PRP injections are not typically considered if diagnostic imaging shows clear signs of structural damage.

How does PRP therapy work?

PRP injections draw on the powerful healing properties of the platelets in plasma, the liquid portion of the blood. In addition to blood-clotting factors, plasma contains proteins that support cell growth. When performing this in-office procedure, the medical care team will draw a small sample of the patient’s blood, then place the sample in a rapidly rotating device (centrifuge). Using centrifugal force, the centrifuge will break down the blood into its various components, including plasma, red blood cells and white blood cells.

After the blood is centrifuged, the physician will prepare a plasma sample that contains a high concentration of platelets. Guided by real-time imaging, the physician will then precisely inject the concentrated platelets directly into the patient’s targeted injury site. PRP injections can potentially release an abundance of important growth factors that can enhance the healing of soft tissue. The entire process takes about one hour, and because platelet-rich plasma is derived from the patient’s own blood, the injections have minimal risks and side effects.

When can an athlete return to play?

The goal of PRP therapy is to set the stage for a “cascade” of healing that typically occurs over several weeks. Following a PRP injection, the patient will be advised to temporarily limit certain physical activities, then begin a customized rehabilitation program to enhance the effectiveness of the treatment. To achieve the best results, platelet-rich plasma therapy should be used as part of a broader treatment plan to reduce pain and improve function.

After a PRP injection, most patients do not experience immediate symptom relief, but they may notice an accelerated healing response in the injured area over time. Depending on the outcome of the first injection, additional injections may be considered in the subsequent weeks.

The return-to-activity timeline can vary depending on the reason the PRP injection was administered. For instance, regardless of whether the injury was treated with platelet-rich plasma therapy, a large muscle tear may require several weeks to mend, while a chronic tendon injury can take up to six months to fully heal. The physician will make the return-to-play decision based on the results of follow-up examinations and possibly imaging scans.

Talk With a Sports Medicine Specialist

Platelet-rich plasma therapy can potentially help you recover from a soft tissue injury both quickly and safely. If you would like to discuss PRP injections with an experienced sports medicine doctor, contact Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health at 813-979-6978 to request an appointment at our New Tampa office, which is conveniently located at 15285 Amberly Drive.

About W. Andrew Sprouse, MD

Dr. Sprouse is a primary care physician and sports medicine specialist who is passionate about helping his patients maintain an active lifestyle. His specialties include the use of orthobiologics, including platelet-rich plasma injections, bone marrow aspirate concentrate and adipose-derived stem cells. These innovative non-surgical treatment options utilize cells derived from the patient’s own body to promote the healing of musculoskeletal injuries.


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