Your Own Blood Can Heal You: A Look into Platelet Rich Plasma

Platelet Rich Plasma treatment may seem like another arbitrary medical acronym used in passing by physicians and seen on pamphlets casually lining the walls of waiting rooms, but what is it? What does it stand for, and what uses does it have?

Well known amongst the medical community, Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment is a procedure that can been used for a wide variety of injuries or diseases. It can aid in surgical recovery and even, more recently, in aesthetic surgeries and procedures. PRP treatment has been around since 1987 where it was first used after an open heart surgery. Within the last decade it has gained more recognition, sparking many research studies and trials in different branches of treatment.

The treatment’s name, PRP, is as broad as its potential uses. It is an umbrella term under which many subcategories branch out, differing in concentrations, purposes, and outcomes. Beginning with the name itself: Platelet Rich Plasma treatment can be understood as a process through which a patient’s blood is drawn and centrifuged in order to separate the platelets from the rest of the blood. Further processing ensures that the serum has a higher concentration of platelets and other components than regular blood. A representative of the Arteriocyte Medical Systems company, Jason Axelrod, stated that to qualify under the name of PRP, the platelet concentration must be at least six times the baseline concentration of the patient’s regular blood.

The platelets in the blood are what research and trials have shown to release the injury healing growth factors. It is the activation of these platelets and their factors in high concentrations in targeted areas of injury that promote a quicker healing, or even jump starts the healing process in individuals with compromised healing or diseases that complicate healing.

The procedure itself is very personal and patient specific; it is the patient’s own blood that is used to later treat the injury or site of affliction. This being the case, there are some specific kinds of equipment involved in the processing of blood into the patient specified concentrations. One such machine, for example, is a centrifuge with an Autologous Platelet Separator, which can be calibrated for custom platelet concentration depending on the treatment requirements. With this concentrated plasma layer, doctors can treat sport related injuries, tendon inflammation, acute ligament and muscle injuries, osteoarthritis and many other ailments. One such way in which PRP treatments are being used more clinically is in the aid of treating degenerative disc disease, an ailment in which causes and symptoms vary greatly. More research is currently being done with this method, but a few published studies have shown that early interventions of PRP injections has had positive effects on the treatment of the damaged discs.

Treatments including PRP injections have been gaining popularity in its usage, going from treating mostly injuries and diseases to building a strong presence in the realm of dermatology and aesthetic surgeries. PRP has been making headlines as the Vampire Facelift, made popular by celebrities like Kim Kardashian. It has made headlines in the world of sports media as well, catching the attention of those who follow persons like Tiger Woods who had PRP injections in 2008 following a serious ACL injury.
PRP treatment is less invasive than surgical methods treating the same conditions. So, the time of treatment and recovery is typically shorter with PRP than with the traditional route of surgery. Such a reason is why this treatment is gaining traction amongst patients, particularly those who are heavily involved in professional sports, such as baseball player Garrett Richards of the Los Angeles Angels, who decided to treat a ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear through PRP injections rather than with surgery.

There are many implications concerning the health and future treatment of injuries, diseases and cosmetic procedures that are currently done with PRP, such as long term effects, efficiency etc. But there are also economy implications as well. As of now, PRP is not covered by most health insurance plans--unlike those more invasive measures used to treat the same conditions. However, PRP is shown to be a faster mode of treatment that can possibly save the patient a lot of time in regards to their recovery rate.

Though PRP has been in use in the United States since 1987, peer-reviewed research and studies have not gained popularity until more recently. PRP continues to be widely studied, finding more ways to incorporate PRP injections within the medical world.

Susan ParragaComment