Platelet-rich Plasma Therapy (PRP) is an emerging treatment for osteoarthritis, most commonly used for arthritis of the knee, but it can be effective on other joints too. The therapy works on using the natural healing properties of your own blood to treat damaged tissue, and whilst it is not considered a mainstream treatment yet, it is showing promising results in reducing symptoms of this joint disease. Find out about PRP injections and if they could help relieve your knee pain?
PRP treatment – how does it work?
Plasma is the liquid element of blood, made up of mostly water, but it also includes proteins and nutrients, as well as glucose and antibodies. Red and white blood cells travel in the blood stream along with plasma.
Platelets are another element that makes up what we know as blood. Platelets secrete proteins and growth factors, which assist with tissue regeneration and helping the blood to clot. If you have low platelets in your blood, then excessive bleeding from even a small cut is common.
In PRP therapy, plasma that is “rich” in these healing platelets can be injected into the affected joint, taken as a sample from your own blood. This higher density of platelets aids and promotes regeneration of tissues that have been destroyed through arthritis.
The aims and effects of PRP therapy
Whilst experts are not exactly sure how PRP alleviates symptoms, the goals of PRP therapy are to:
- Reduce inflammation associated with osteoarthritis
- Use proteins in the blood that alter pain receptors to reduce pain
- Stimulate new cartilage to form
- Increase production of natural lubricants in the joint to ease friction and improve joint function
- Slow or halt further damage to the cartilage in the joint
- Possibly even repair previous damage
PRP treatment can not only be used to repair damaged cartilage but also tendons, ligaments, muscles and bone.
Am I suitable for PRP therapy?
Traditional methods of relieving pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee include:
- physical therapy
- cortisone injections
- braces and shock-absorbing shoes
- knee surgery
If you have tried some or all traditional methods and want to avoid knee surgery, PRP therapy could be a good solution for you, subject to consultation with an orthopaedic specialist.
PRP may not be covered by your health insurance, as it is still an emerging treatment, under research. This also means that scientists and medics are still experimenting to prove the effectiveness of this treatment as a conventional method to treat osteoarthritis.
Discuss your options with an orthopaedic specialist so you can make an educated decision along with professional guidance.
PRP injections – what to expect from treatment?
Because PRP uses a sample of your own blood, the first stage is to take an extraction of your blood from your arm.
This blood sample is placed in a centrifuge, which separates your blood into elements; red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma and platelets.
From that sample, platelet-rich plasma is extracted and in turn injected into your knee (or other affected area).
The procedure takes just 30-60 minutes, and 15 minutes after the injection you will be able to go back home.
Following the PRP injection, you will knee to treat your knee with ice every few hours for periods of 20 minutes, for three days.
Pain relief medication can be used if you experience pain following the injection, and it will be recommend to refrain from putting signifiant weight on your knee for a few days; crutches can be used as a precaution.
There will be a follow up treatment 6-8 weeks following your therapy to assess if your symptoms have improved or not.
Is PRP therapy effective?
Because everyone’s blood is unique, the effectiveness of the PRP injections can vary between patients. This is due to how your blood sample is processed, which may affect the concentrations of platelets in your injection, as well as any additives that your doctor may add to your injection to enhance the healing properties of PRP.
Essentially though, as you are using your own blood to heal, there are minimal risks. Any risk would be limited to the pain of the injection and local infection or nerve damage from the injection, but these are unlikely.