Your own body is pretty amazing at healing yourself. If you’re healthy, a minor cut is, well, minor. Your body will repair itself quickly and you’ll just as quickly forget you even had it.
That healing takes place thanks to platelets, one of the three major components of your blood. For reference, the other two are red blood cells and white blood cells. All three of these miniscule types of cells flow through your body thanks to the fluid known as plasma.
Platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy supercharges platelets by removing blood from your body, concentrating the platelets in your own plasma, and reinjecting it back into your body at the site of an injury. The platelets then do what they’re made to do — activate the body’s healing process.
Platelets are well known for helping in blood coagulation, which is indeed one of their main functions. Platelets also help the body heal because they’re full of proteins known as growth factors. These growth factors essentially send signals to your body that somewhere needs healing, leading to increased blood flow, swelling, and a host of other processes. This natural healing is what PRP therapy aims to recreate.
PRP therapy is safe, fast, and relatively inexpensive. It’s a valuable method of treating injuries like those to joints, tendons, or ligaments.
If you’ve wondered just how a PRP procedure works, follow along below as we go over the steps involved in a procedure — and tell you how and why they work.
PRP Procedure Step-by-Step
A PRP procedure is relatively fast, and can be done as an outpatient procedure in a clinic. There is no general anesthetic to worry about and it is not an invasive surgery that requires cutting and sutures.
Usually, a PRP procedure will take between one to two hours. After that, you can go on your merry way and let the healing process do its magic.
Step 1: Identifying the Injury
Before any PRP procedure is possible or even advised, you’ll need to consult a specialist to determine whether or not the treatment is right for you. It’s especially useful for conditions like:
- Injured tendons (tennis elbow, sprains, strains, etc.)
- Osteoarthritis (PRP has been especially popular with arthritic knees)
- Muscle strains or tears
If you suffer from any of these conditions, speak to a specialist to see if PRP is a good choice. Because of its strong safety profile, its popularity is quickly increasing.
A doctor may not suggest PRP if you are currently suffering an infection, suffer from low platelet count, or have cancer.
Step 2: Drawing Your Blood
This step is just what it sounds like. Usually, less than 50 milliliters of your blood is needed for the procedure. For reference, that’s about 10% as much as is usually drawn when you donate blood.
Being well hydrated helps draw blood since plasma is mostly water. Besides being hydrated, patients should keep in mind they will not want to have taken non-steroidal anti inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or aspirin for at least a week before the procedure. These can negatively affect the way platelets work.
Step 3: Putting the Blood in a Centrifuge
A centrifuge is a neat whirly device that separates different components by spinning at high speeds. Centrifuges are not just used for separating a patient’s blood — centrifuges are necessary to enrich uranium, for example. The types of centrifuges you’ll find in doctors’ offices certainly don’t enrich uranium, however, so don’t worry about blowing up or glowing green.
What this centrifuge does do, however, is separate the platelets from the red and white blood cells. From here, the platelets can be concentrated.
Step 4: Concentrating the Platelets
By this point, the platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells will have been separated from the plasma. The platelets are collected and put back into a small amount of plasma — around ten percent the volume of blood you donated, usually.
The platelets’ concentration will be several times stronger than it was in your blood naturally. This is the “supercharging” we mentioned earlier in the article, and really the whole point of the treatment. Concentrating the platelets is what leads to the “platelet-rich” part of the phrase, after all.
Step 5: Administering the Injection
Once the PRP has been collected in a syringe, it’ll be administered to the site via injection. Your doctor may give you a local anesthetic first via injection to prevent any discomfort, which will take a few secondsto become effective.
Doctors often use ultrasound guidance to make sure they inject the PRP to precisely the right spot. That means you’ll have some ultrasound gel rubbed on the injection site and the doctor will use an ultrasound tool, which will project it on a screen. That means you essentially get to watch your own procedure on TV, which isn’t something anyone a few decades ago could say.
The doctors use a small needle, generally smaller than a blood draw needle, to place the PRP on your injured body part. Patients sometimes report feeling a small “pinch.” The actual injection usually takes less than a minute.
Once the PRP has been injected, you can treat the site like a normal injection — simply keep a bandage on it and keep it clean.
What Happens After PRP Therapy?
The real magic of PRP therapy happens over an extended period of time after the treatment. Immediately following the injection and up to a few days, patients may notice swelling and tenderness after. This is normal — swelling is part of the body’s healing process. The platelet activation will “turn on” your body’s healing of a site it may have neglected or incompletely healed before. And this process may take some time.
Pain can be expected for a few days after the injection as well. If you need, take a doctor-approved pain medication like Tylenol (paracetamol) instead of aspirin or ibuprofen, which will interfere with the platelets’ function. Similarly, do not ice the joint with a cold compress even if that’s what your instincts tell you to do. Icing the joint will reduce the swelling, and the swelling is actually necessary for the healing to happen.
How Long Does PRP Therapy Take to Work?
Although patients can return to normal activity essentially immediately after PRP therapy, they should note that the long-term effects of the treatment may not be immediately noticeable. This is because, like any kind of healing, it takes time. Some patients may notice long-term positive effects within a few weeks, while others may report significant improvement only after a few to several months.
At Apex Pain and Wellness, we’ve found the best results with a series of three injections over the span of two to four weeks. Multiple injections across a not-too-long but not-too-short period of time allows for maximum effect for the PRP and maximum healing for you.
Safe and Effective — What’s Not to Like?
By using your own body to help you heal, platelet rich plasma therapy is a treatment like none other. There is no chance of rejection, it’s entirely natural, and doesn’t even rely on any medications to work. It’s simply your body’s natural processes amplified.
If you’ve been suffering from an injury, arthritis, or other joint or muscle pain, PRP treatment may be right for you. While it will never replace surgery for patients that truly need it, platelet rich plasma injections are a very useful arrow in a doctor’s quiver and will likely continue to grow in popularity in coming years.
Call 650-667-2322 to set up a consultation with Apex Pain and Wellness if you’d like to see if PRP is right for you. The consultation is covered by insurance — so why wait?