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Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy Gaining Popularity Among Athletes

It has long been the case that high-profile athletes are the first to seek out experimental, cutting-edge medical treatments for their ailments. The pressure of maintaining an optimum level of performance drives many of these athletes to attempt alternatives that will enable them both to avoid surgery, and, if surgery is necessary, reduce their recovery time. In recent years, superstars in nearly every professional sport, including Tiger Woods (in golf), Alex Rodriguez (in baseball), and Kobe Bryant (in basketball), have turned to platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP) to help enhance their recovery.

PRP therapy is an innovative therapy that aims to stimulate healing and relieve pain as treatment for a variety of musculoskeletal conditions. Dr. Steven Meier, a Beverly Hills orthopedic surgeon and leading expert in joint-preserving treatments, has had success using PRP to treat select shoulder, knee, and elbow injuries. To learn more about Dr. Meier’s practice or to schedule an initial consultation, please feel free to contact our office at (310) 777-7845.

What is Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy?

The body’s initial response to soft tissue injury is to recruit platelet cells to the area, which are natural components of blood. Platelets, in addition to being an important part of the body’s natural process to stop itself from bleeding, also contain growth and healing factors. The goal of PRP therapy is to intensify this normal healing response by delivering a high concentration of a person’s own platelets to the site of the injury.

In order to obtain platelets for injection, a blood sample must be drawn from the patient. The blood is then placed in a high-speed centrifuge and spun down to separate the platelet-rich plasma from other components of the blood. The patient’s own platelets are then injected into and around the site of the soft tissue damage. PRP is thought to “supercharge” the body’s capacity for healing by concentrating the body’s reparative inflammatory processes directly at the site of injury instead of in a generalized area. There is some evidence that platelet-rich plasma may even be able to help older and chronic injuries and lesions.

Because PRP essentially jump-starts the local healing process, there may be a brief period of soft tissue aggravation and soreness following the injection due to inflammation, as the necessary healing factors are attracted to the area to begin their work.

Platelet-rich plasma therapy has the potential to help resolve a variety of joint conditions, and may be particularly effective in treating damaged tissues that otherwise would not receive adequate blood supply or healing factors to be able to mend on their own. Injuries treated with PRP by Dr. Meier include failed rotator cuff repairs, large meniscus tears in young patients, partially torn tendons, and epicondylitis of the elbow (tennis elbow).

How Effective Is PRP?

The response from professional athletes who have received platelet-rich plasma injections has been mixed. Several members of the Los Angeles Dodgers have attributed their quick recoveries over the past few years to PRP. Catcher Russell Martin returned earlier than expected from a strained groin muscle in 2010 after undergoing several PRP injections. After suffering a partially torn elbow ligament last year, Chad Billingsley was a candidate for season-ending reconstructive elbow surgery. Instead, Billingsley underwent two PRP injections and began pitching several months later pain-free.

Perhaps most notable was Dodgers pitcher Takashi Saito, who in July of 2008 suffered a potentially career-ending torn elbow ligament. At age 38, Saito sought an alternative to surgery and came across PRP therapy. He returned that year to pitch in the postseason, and remains an active player in the league to this day.

However, other members of the Dodgers have reported experiencing little difference or even re-injury after PRP treatment. After receiving PRP for a strained hamstring, Rafael Furcal was moved to the disabled list just one week later. Matt Kemp also received the therapy for a strained hamstring; however, after straining a different part of the same muscle several weeks later, Kemp admitted that he never really felt a difference after PRP therapy. Even within the same sports team, platelet-rich plasma therapy has had dramatically different results.

This difference could be attributed to many variables, one of which might include returning to activity too soon after the PRP therapy. After PRP injections, the person has to be committed to rest and healing for several weeks in order to achieve the best results possible for their injury.

The Future of Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy

Despite claims that PRP is a groundbreaking treatment with widespread applications, its use as a reliable alternative to surgery remains controversial. As a relatively new treatment in the fields of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine, more clinical studies are necessary to confirm its long-term efficacy for specific musculoskeletal injuries and conditions.

In the meantime, with careful patient selection under the guidance of an experienced orthopedic surgeon, platelet-rich plasma therapy offers exciting potential for people who would otherwise be facing injuries that have traditionally been slow to heal, or requiring surgical treatment for healing and pain relief.

Contact a Beverly Hills Orthopedic Surgeon

Dr. Steven Meier is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with fellowship training in sports medicine and minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery. As a leading expert in the field of joint preservation and restoration, Dr. Meier offers a variety of cutting-edge treatments for sports-related injuries. Find out more by contacting Beverly Hills orthopedic surgeon Steven Meier, M.D. at (310) 777-7845. You may also fill out our contact form and a representative from Meier Orthopedic Sports Medicine will be in touch with you shortly!

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The information available on this web site is provided for informational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace a medical consultation where a physician's judgment may advise you about specific disorders, conditions and or treatment options. We hope the information will be useful for you to become more educated about your health care decisions.