Can the body's own healing powers be used to ease pain, improve function, and slow joint degeneration for those with osteoarthritis? Advocates for platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections would say "yes."
What is PRP?
PRP injections are created using these steps:
- A blood sample is drawn from a vein in the patient's arm
- A centrifuge is used to concentrate all the platelets in the sample
- The platelet-concentrated portion of the sample is reinjected into the patient's injured tissue
Platelets are components in the blood, like red and white blood cells, which emit growth factors and proteins to promote tissue regeneration. Experts aren't sure of the exact process, but these platelet-concentrated injections seem to promote and speed tissue healing.
How effective is PRP?
Each injection of PRP is different, based on:
- Characteristics of each person's blood
- The way the blood is processed
- What additives a physician may include
Because of this variability, it's been difficult to provide statistically significant results about PRP's benefits in randomized trials.
However, several studies have confirmed that PRP is beneficial for soft tissue injuries, particularly tendonitis in the knee or elbow.
Most studies on the effectiveness of PRP for osteoarthritis have been conducted on patients with knee osteoarthritis. They demonstrate a benefit in easing pain and slowing joint degeneration, particularly for younger patients with osteoarthritis that hasn't progressed very far yet.1 However, more study is needed to reach conclusive findings.
Who is a good candidate for PRP?
So far, experts agree that PRP should be used in conjunction with other types of treatment for osteoarthritis, including physical therapy and exercise.
If you haven't had positive results from osteoarthritis treatment options like medications (NSAIDs), joint aspirations, or steroid injections, then PRP therapy may be a good option for you. Ask your doctor whether you're a good candidate.
- Use of Platelet Rich Plasma in Intra-Articular Knee Injections for Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review." PM&R. 2015 Feb 13. [Epub ahead of print]