Put the Brakes on Pain, Rev Up Healing With PRP
Julian Whitaker, MD
Fifteen years in the NBA and numerous injuries had taken their toll on Kobe Bryant’s right knee, and despite three surgical procedures, he continued to have problems. So Kobe went to Germany last summer for treatment. The following season, he led the Los Angeles Lakers to the 2012 playoffs and was selected as an NBA All-Star for the fourteenth time.
The treatment Kobe received was platelet-rich plasma (PRP), a therapy that a growing number of professional athletes are using to help speed recovery from injuries and keep them on top of their game. PRP relieves pain and facilitates healing from all types of acute and repetitive motion injuries, such as sprains and strains—even arthritis and degenerative disc disease. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a superstar or leave the country to benefit from this safe, effective treatment. It’s available at the Whitaker Wellness Institute and a handful of other clinics in the US.
The Power of Platelets
The concept behind PRP is simple. Platelets are components in the blood that initiate and regulate wound healing. PRP delivers concentrations of the body’s own platelets directly to damaged or degenerated tissues.
Under normal circumstances, platelets circulate through the bloodstream in their inactivated state. But when they encounter an injury such as a torn tendon or damaged joint, a cut or scrape, or a lesion inside a blood vessel or internal organ, they get down to business. They adhere to molecules at breaks in the endothelium (lining of the blood vessels) and release a plethora of proteins, peptides, and other compounds. These include clotting factors to stop bleeding; inflammatory chemicals to drive the acute phase of the healing process; and growth factors to promote tissue regeneration and the formation of blood vessels that nourish new tissues.
Harnessing the power of platelets is not new. PRP has been around for decades and is the subject of more than 5,000 scientific papers. Various PRP preparations have been used to enhance the healing of bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and surgical wounds, and this therapy has been enthusiastically adopted by orthopedic, plastic, periodontal, and maxillofacial surgeons. Now, due primarily to its growing popularity with pro athletes, PRP is finally coming into its own as a minimally invasive treatment for musculoskeletal injuries and degenerative joint and disc disease.
ABCs of PRP
A typical PRP treatment at Whitaker Wellness involves removing a vial of a patient’s own blood and spinning it in a centrifuge to separate out the red blood cells, plasma, and other components. You end up with a very small amount of concentrated platelets—5–10 times the amount in whole blood—in a little plasma (the clear, liquid part of blood); hence the name platelet-rich plasma, PRP.
The patient’s PRP is placed in a syringe and injected into the affected area, which is numbed beforehand to make the injection more comfortable. A single injection is the norm, although two or more, spaced out at least a month apart, may be required. Then you wait. PRP is not a quick fix. As I explained above, it simply amplifies your body’s natural healing mechanisms, and the regeneration process it initiates can take months. However—usually within a few weeks—remarkable things happen.
A Bright Future
I see a bright future for PRP. First, it’s exceptionally safe. Because PRP is an “autologous” procedure, meaning it’s derived or transferred from the patient’s own body, there’s no danger of an adverse reaction to a foreign substance. It simply harnesses your own platelets for healing and regeneration.
Second, PRP can be combined with other promising regenerative therapies such as autologous adipose (fat)-derived stem cells, which I’m exploring for use at the clinic in the near future.
Third, it’s done in a doctor’s office, is quick and minimally invasive, requires no recovery time, and costs a fraction of the price of any surgical procedure. The graying of the Baby Boomers, coupled with our epidemic of obesity, has dramatically increased the burden of osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease. If something as simple and economical as PRP can, as studies show, help reduce this burden by delivering growth factors that help repair damaged tissues, relieve pain, and restore function, surely it has a chance of being adopted by mainstream medicine.
- If you have a slow-healing musculoskeletal injury, arthritis, or neck/back pain, check out platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy. For information on receiving PRP at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call (866) 944-8253.
- Napolitano M, et al. Autologous platelet gel for tissue regeneration in degenerative disorders of the knee. Blood Transfus. 2012 Jan;10(1):72–77.
- Sánchez-González DJ, et al. Platelet-rich plasma peptides: key for regeneration. Int J Pept. 2012;2012:532519.
- Sánchez M, et al. Ultrasound-guided platelet-rich plasma injections for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the hip. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2012 Jan;51(1):144–150.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.