Platelet-Rich Plasma: A Novel Alternative to Surgery
UW Health Sports Medicine recently became one of the first clinics in the Midwest to begin offering Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP), a novel treatment that uses a patient's own "supercharged" blood to heal soft-tissue injuries.
"The concept behind PRP involves drawing the patient's blood and using a centrifuge to concentrate the platelets, which are rich in the growth factors the body uses in the healing process," explains John Wilson, MD, an UW Health sports medicine physician. "Then we re-inject those platelets into an area of chronic tissue injury, where the growth factors can be used by the body to heal the tissue."
Although dentists have used PRP to help graft bone during dental surgery and physicians have used it with professional athletes or treat acute injuries, the therapy has only recently made its way into the chronic injury arena.
That's great news, and great timing, for recreational athletes like 44-year-old Tom Moore of Madison, a lobbyist whose painful case of plantar fasciitis was seriously hampering his plans to train for the Ironman Wisconsin in 2010.
"I've tried just about everything - physical therapy, splints, and orthotics," says Moore. "I'm very encouraged that there's a new treatment that could move me beyond where I've stalled."
Moore received his first PRP injection last week. Typically, patients will require one or two injections before noticing improvement. The total recovery time is similar to surgery, three to six months, depending on the severity of the condition, but the key difference is that patients who opt for PRP over surgery may not have to miss work as they rehabilitate.
"We see a lot of patients who are laborers in addition to being athletes," says Dr. Wilson. "If they're not able to use their elbow or return to work because of surgery, that's lost income, and maybe a lost job. If they're using platelet-rich plasma injections, they can potentially continue working."
Patients interested in trying PRP should check with their insurance companies to see if their plans provide coverage. In some cases, patients may have to pay for the therapy themselves, at a cost of several hundred dollars per injection.
"Still, it's important to remember that 'expensive' is a relative term," notes Dr. Wilson. "The cost for PRP is still less than surgery to repair a strained tendon."
According to Wilson, the drawbacks to PRP are minor: some patients have discomfort during the blood draw and minor pain after the injection.
"Right now we're targeting people who have tried everything else and are not interested in surgery," says Dr. Wilson. "PRP offers another option for people who have chronic overuse problems and recreational athletes who aren't able to do the things they want to do."
Date Published: 09/16/2009