In only a few short years, the promise and potential of stem cell research has evolved from wishful science fiction to real science with real results. Today, stem cell therapy is effective in treating or managing a wide variety of health conditions. One of the areas in which stem cells have proven useful, at least indirectly, is in PRP therapy. PRP stands for Platelet Rich Plasma, a unique solution of plasma derived from the patient’s own blood.
Platelet rich plasma therapy can be broken down into two stages: preparation and injection. To begin PRP therapy, doctors draw a blood sample from the patient, usually from the arm. This sample is then spun rapidly in a device called a centrifuge. The centrifuge separates the components of the blood sample. Red blood cells concentrate in one end of the tube, while blood plasma concentrates in the other end. Near the middle of the test tube is an area of plasma with a very high density of platelets. In ordinary blood, about 6 percent of the volume consists of platelets. PRP therapy uses a solution that is 94 percent platelets.
The second stage of platelet rich plasma therapy includes injection of the PRP sample into the injury site. Depending on the type and severity of injury, doctors may prescribe a single injection or a course of several over time. The platelets and plasma come from the patient’s own body, so there is almost zero risk of adverse reactions to the therapy. PRP injections may be painful, but require no extended recovery or aftercare. This is often the case with invasive surgical procedures.
Originally, PRP therapy was developed as a way to speed up recovery from heart surgery. Doctors later saw the potential for the therapy to help people get well after major spinal surgery, bone fractures, or plastic surgery. Only in the last several years has PRP therapy’s pain relieving potential with regards to orthopedic injuries been realized. This non-surgical therapy has been used to treat various kinds of arthritis, tendonitis, strained muscles, and torn cartilage. It’s especially useful when treating tissue injuries in parts of the body with a naturally poor blood supply, such as the Achilles tendon. For this reason, professional and amateur athletes have become the biggest proponents of PRP therapy.
Doctors have a good understanding of how PRP therapy works. The role of platelets in clotting the blood has been known for a long time, but recently science has revealed that the picture is actually more complicated. The presence of concentrated plasma at an injury site triggers the body to send stem cells in to repair the damage. The injected platelets also gradually break down, releasing biochemicals known as growth factors. The combination of growth factors and stem cells both accelerate the natural healing process.
PRP therapy is one of a host of stem cell treatments that are changing the landscape of orthopedic medicine. While the treatment is admittedly still in its infancy, there is promise that many forms of invasive surgeries will one day be rendered obsolete. The most exciting aspect of PRP therapy and stem cell therapies in general is that the treatment is a product of the patient’s own body rather than a pharmaceutical concoction.