Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy – a novel way of treating joint pain and cartilage tears — is safe and effective, according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine in Baltimore.
“Using PRP therapy to repair cartilage is still relatively experimental, but studies like this show it’s not only safe but also offers a significant improvement in function and quality of life for patients,” said Elizaveta Kon, MD, lead author for the study and Director of Nano-Biotecnology Laboratory at the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute in Bologna, Italy. “None of the patients treated experienced complications like infection, deep vein thrombosis or fever.”
PRP therapy is gaining in popularity in the United States, primarily as a way to treat athletes with painful chronic injuries. The procedure involves withdrawing blood from the patient and then spinning it to produce a high concentration of platelet cells. The plasma is then injected back into the patient at the injury site, speeding up the healing process.
In the Italian study, 180 patients were treated for chronic pain or swelling of the knee with either PRP therapy or viscosupplementation, a more common hyaluronic acid-based treatment for cartilage damage. Both treatment groups demonstrated significant improvement in their pain and joint function in follow-up studies.
“As athletic participation has grown,” Kon noted, “new problems like cartilage lesions, or tears, continue to emerge. Finding the right approach to treatment is difficult, but PRP has emerged as a viable option according to our research.”
Harvesting and processing a patient’s own blood cells to treat injuries is a rapidly growing field. Athletes such as Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and Vijay Singh have traveled to Düsseldorf, Germany for a more refined version of PRP therapy known as Regenokine treatment. In that procedure, the blood is heated before it is spun to increase the concentration of anti-inflammatory and pain inhibiting proteins. Patients are also genetically screened to personalize their treatment, but because the gene test is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration it is not available in theU.S.
“The results were incredible,” golfer Vijay Singh said in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s like somebody just put oil all over your body. It lubes you up, and you’re able to move more freely, especially pain free.”
World class athletes may be praising the benefits of Regenokine therapy, but the procedure costs several thousand dollars, is not covered by insurance plans and is out of reach of most patients.