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Platelet Rich Plasma

Platelet Rich Plasma Injections Help Heal Tendon, Ligament Injuries Faster

Tendonitis. Tennis elbow. Rotator cuff tears. Knee ligament injuries. These are common ailments for athletes in all sports, whether it is the professional baseball player, the high school linebacker, or the point guard on the pick-up basketball team. No matter the level of play, athletes are sent to the sidelines for tendon injuries every day – and recovery can often be long, painful and arduous.

Allegheny General Hospital’s Sports Medicine Program is now offering a state-of-the-art treatment for tendon injuries that involves injecting platelets from an athlete’s own blood directly to the affected site to promote healing. Platelets are irregularly-shaped, colorless bodies found in the blood that are responsible for forming clots to stop bleeding when a person gets a wound. Because of their purpose in the body, platelets carry growth factors that stimulate healing and scarring.

Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection procedures are relatively simple yet extremely effective, according to Edward Snell, MD, Director of Primary Sports Medicine at Allegheny General Hospital, and Head Team Physician for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dr. Snell is successfully using the procedure with a number of patients, including professional baseball players.

According to Dr. Snell, the procedure involves drawing a small amount of blood from the patient and placing the sample in an autologous platelet separator system. The blood, which is spun at low volumes in a centrifuge, is separated into three layers. The middle layer holds platelet rich plasma, which is removed by syringe and administered directly to the affected area. Once injected, the plasma’s growth factors accelerate the rate and degree of tissue regeneration, which leads to improved wound healing.

“PRP injections directly to the site are a simple way to stimulate growth factors and promote healing,” noted Dr. Snell. “We are providing a great deal of relief for athletes who are looking to reduce their recovery time after tendon injury.”

Since the patient is using his or her own blood, the PRP injections are very safe. There is a low chance of infection because the remaining plasma contains white blood cells that ward off infection, said Dr. Snell. Another benefit is that the procedure can be completed quickly in an office setting.

PRP, which was first used in the 1990s for individuals with maxillofacial bone healing, has proven to be very successful in the treatment of numerous sports injuries. For instance, Dr. Snell has treated individuals with tennis elbow who felt full benefit within a few weeks and were back to playing tennis, golf or other activities pain-free within six to eight weeks. Others with severe arthritis in their knees were back to their activities with little to no pain in four to six weeks. And younger kids with medial collateral ligament (MCL) knee injuries that did not respond to bracing and rest were back playing within weeks after the procedure with no injury, pain or disability.

“PRP injections have exploded into the sports medicine scene to help heal injuries faster so athletes are quickly back onto the playing field,” noted Dr. Snell. “The response will be to use the injections more rather than less. We will definitely see an expanding market as other uses are developed.”

Patrick DeMeo, MD, System Chairman of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at West Penn Allegheny Health System, and Medical Director of the Pittsburgh Pirates, has seen similar success with his patients and thinks the prognosis is good for additional applications.

“Level one studies show platelet rich plasma treatment accelerates healing to provide better clinical outcomes, more rapid healing, and a quicker return to function,” Dr. DeMeo emphasized. “We are optimistic that we will see success with PRP in other areas to restore function, minimize pain, and decrease the time for an acute injury to get better in the future.”

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