Platelet-rich plasma therapy has made headlines, often because it is favored by elite athletes to help them recover from injury.
Some doctors are now using platelet-rich plasma therapy or PRP injections for several reasons, from encouraging hair growth to promoting soft tissue-healing.
However, research studies have not definitively proved that PRP works for the conditions it is reported to benefit. In this article, we have a look at the case for PRP, and the costs involved.
Platelets are blood cells with several roles to play in the body.
One is to promote blood clotting so that a person does not excessively bleed when they are cut.
Another is to contain proteins in the blood that help wounds to heal.
Researchers theorize that by injecting areas of inflammation or tissue damage with high concentrations of platelets, it can encourage wounds to heal.
A small blood sample is taken from the person being treated and put into a centrifuge or other specialized device that spins at high speed. This process separates platelets from other blood components. The concentration of platelets is then injected into the area of the person’s body that needs to be treated.
Because the injection contains a high concentration of platelets, which can be from 5 to 10 times more than the untreated blood, doctors theorize that the platelets will speed up healing.
Some examples of treatment areas where PRP has been used include:
Doctors have injected PRP into the scalp, as a way of reducing the inflammation that can lead to hair loss.
Doctors first used PRP to help people heal after jaw and plastic surgeries. Examples of tissues that PRP has been used on include:
Ligaments can take time and be difficult to heal, which can make PRP an attractive option for some of those who have experienced injuries to this tissue group.
Doctors have used PRP to reduce inflammation caused by osteoarthritis. This inflammation can lead to joints becoming painful and stiff.
Research studies about PRP include:
- One published in 2015 in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, which found that men receiving PRP treatment grew more hair and with significantly more density than men who did not. However, the treatment was on 20 individuals only, so it was a small-scale study.
- Another published in 2013 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that PRP injections helped to reduce knee osteoarthritis pain compared to saline injections. Again, the study had a small sample of 78 participants.
- A paper published in 2014, again in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, found that 3 rounds of PRP injections reduced symptoms in those with the knee injury chronic patellar tendinopathy. The researchers used 28 athletes in the study.
Doctors are also trying to use PRP to heal broken bones, but no research has yet proven its effectiveness in this area.
Costs for PRP treatment are reported to be between $500 and $2,000.
It is not typically covered by insurance because of the lack of evidence, so far, to conclusively prove that it works.
Also, costs can vary depending on location, facilities, and the expertise of the doctor performing the treatment. Often, a person will have multiple injections given 2 to 3 months apart.
Some of the world’s most elite athletes have used PRP for wound healing. They include golf’s Tiger Woods, baseball’s Takashi Saito, and football’s Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu.
As injecting PRP involves using a person’s own platelets, they do not usually experience any adverse reactions to the injections. However, it is possible that a person may have irritation, pain, or bleeding related to the injection site.
Most people can resume their normal activities almost immediately after having a PRP injection. The average time from blood-drawing to the injection itself is about half-an-hour.
While PRP is a promising therapy for those who experience tissue damage or hair loss, large-scale research studies are needed to establish the effectiveness of treatments.
With larger studies than those to date, doctors could identify a dose or injection routine that works best for treating injuries or other conditions. Also, further studies could help doctors determine what symptoms to exclude from PRP injections.
Until that time, PRP injections are likely to remain a controversial therapy not covered by medical insurance, the costs of which, people are required to pay for themselves.