Over the last few years, platelet rich plasma (PRP) has received a lot of attention, partly because Kobe Bryant and other famous athletes have used it. PRP has been credited with helping Bryant and various aging sports stars recover from conditions like sprained knees and injured tendons in less time than would be possible with other forms of therapy. If you are unfamiliar with PRP, you may have questions like:
- How does PRP work?
- How is PRP administered?
- Are PRP injections better than surgery?
What is PRP?
Blood consists mainly of liquid plasma that contains various particles like platelets and white cells. Platelets contain growth factors, which are proteins that are beneficial for the healing of injuries. Among other things, growth factors increase the secretion of collagen and encourage the proliferation of tendon stem cells; they may also improve blood circulation and thus make cartilage firmer and more resistant to injury. PRP therapy involves concentrating platelets and injecting them into the injured area. The PRP preparation will have a considerably higher concentration of platelets (and thus of growth factors) when compared to blood.
Lab tests have shown that concentrated growth factors are able to hasten healing and many professional athletes have testified to the benefits of PRP injections.
The Process of Administering PRP
The process of administering PRP therapy takes roughly 20 minutes from beginning to end and starts with the collection of 30 milliliters of the patient's blood. A process called centrifuging is used to separate the platelets from the rest of the blood. The doctors will then inject the distilled platelets back into the patient at the point of their injury. The doctor performing the procedure should use image guidance to ensure that the PRP injections are placed in the correct areas where they will benefit the patient most. Should a doctor decide that his/her own judgment is better and wants to perform a manual placement injection, it would be advisable to ask for image guidance or a second opinion. The number of times a patient may need to have PRP therapy performed will vary depending on the severity of their injury. A single shot may suffice for some patients but others may need as many as five shots.
Why Kobe Bryant Chose PRP over Surgery
Kobe Bryant and many other athletes suffer from osteoarthritis of the knees. This is due to the toll that playing sports at a high level takes on their bodies. Early testing of PRP suggest that it is far more effective than other forms of treatment for osteoarthritis while offering a much shorter recovery time when compared to surgical alternatives.
Kobe Bryant has undergone multiple rounds of PRP therapy and has even recommended it to friends like baseball player Alex Rodriguez.
Recovery Time after PRP Injections
Soreness will last for about two to three days after PRP injections and painkillers may be prescribed to help with this. Many patients see a decrease in their pain in as short a time as 16 weeks. Along with the reduced pain, thickening of the cartilage has been observed. Thickening cartilage indicates that the patient's body is actually healing. In one controlled study, 60 percent of patients who were given PRP saw a reduction in pain.
Are PRP Injections Better than Surgery?
In many cases, it is. While there are many patients for whom surgery may be a better option, there are many others where PRP will provide better and faster results. For example, patients who have excessive scar tissue within a tendon or ligament due to an incompletely healed injury may face reduced joint function. The tendon or ligament may be incompletely healed because there is insufficient blood flowing to the injury site. The growth factors within PRP can help to enhance the body's own healing process thus making it unnecessary for the patient to have surgery.
Professional athletes have long been the first to try out innovative medical techniques to recover from injuries and to lengthen their careers. PRP appears to provide exactly those benefits if you consider Kobe Bryant's resurgence after receiving PRP. PRP injections are now becoming popular outside of professional sports as well. People suffering from osteoarthritis in their knees are seeking out minimally invasive alternatives to surgery that involve shorter recovery times.
As with any form of medical treatment, you should consult with your physician before embarking on any treatment plan. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be deemed accurate for the purposes of diagnosing your particular medical condition.