Health Notes: Using plasma therapy for sports injuries

Naturopath Dr. Chris Spooner explains the use of platelet-rich plasma to treat injuries and joint problems

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) (also known as blood injection therapy) is a medical treatment being used for a wide range of injuries and joint problems. Platelet-rich plasma refers to a sample of serum (blood) that has been concentrated by spinning it in a centrifuge which concentrates the platelets by as much as four times more than normal. This procedure is receiving a lot of attention by large hospitals and universities in the United States including Stanford, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and  Mount Sinai Medical Center to name a few.

Platelets are the paramedics of the body. When there’s an injury, they are the first ones on the scene. Platelets have a large number of growth factors and other signals that start the healing process. This treatment increases the body’s natural ability to heal itself and can be used to improve healing and shorten recovery time from injuries and arthritis.

The results of a new American study show that Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP) can be helpful in treating knee osteoarthritis. With more than 27 million Americans aged 25 years or older suffering from osteoarthritis (OA), the demand for total knee replacement is expected to increase 670 per cent over the next 15 years.  Considering the wait time right now, PRP could very well prove to be a safe, non surgical treatment option.

The research, authored by Dr. Steven Sampson of the Orthohealing Center in Los Angeles, details the account of 14 patients with knee  osteoarthritis receiving three platelet-rich plasma injections in the affected knee at four-week intervals.  These patients were followed for one year after the last injection.

This study, published in the  American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, showed significant improvements in pain and function, with the majority of patients expressing favourable results at 12 months after the PRP treatment.

“PRP is no longer a treatment that only benefits high-profile athletes,” states Dr. Sampson, “the positive effects of this therapy are quickly spreading into many areas of mainstream medicine.” Dr. Sampson further explains, “This pilot study sets the foundation for a large multi-center clinical trial to further demonstrate if PRP is safe and effective for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.” Dr. Sampson adds, “We are facing an epidemic with patients suffering from arthritis at earlier ages. Unfortunately most conservative options are limited and address the symptoms of inflammation, rather than address the biochemical process of the disease.”

Other conditions, in particular sports injuries, have also been shown to respond to PRP.  Patients with chronic tendinitis (e.g., tennis elbow, jumper’s knee, or Achilles tendinitis) have benefited from this treatment.

Numerous professional athletes have used PRP to recover from injuries. Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers have use platelet rich plasma therapy on at least two occasions. Baseball player Alex Rodriguez used five PRP treatments to accelerate healing and recovery following hip surgery.

These professional athletes were able to get back to play in only a few short weeks, instead of the normal two to four months of healing and rehabilitation time it takes for more conventional therapies. Surgical treatment would sideline these highly trained athletes for a whole season.

Platelet-rich plasma injected at the site of an arthritic joint or injury has the ability to create an ideal healing environment. This has been shown in animal studies and now in a limited way in humans. The treatment is simple, and easy to do in the office. A small number of patients have reported increased pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site but this response didn’t last long and has been  lessened by using ultrasound to guide the injection and placement of the PRP.

Dr. Chris Spooner is a naturopathic physician at Okanagan Natural Medicine in Vernon.