How does the body heal itself? The answer can be both mysterious and fascinating, and with that knowledge comes an invaluable medical offering. Increasing medical research is looking towards regenerative medicine and its potential to kickstart and enhance the body’s own healing powers to address pain. For knee pain, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy offers the opportunity to concentrate the healing catalyst and growth factors found in the blood to help repair knee damage and reduce pain.
What is PRP therapy?
An autologous substance is one that is derived from your own body. PRP is created through withdrawing some blood and placing it in a centrifuge that spins it quickly enough to isolate the platelets. These are then concentrated and re-injected into your body at the site of your pain, in this case, your knee. Platelets are involved in the healing process, including clotting of blood when there is a wound and providing healing growth factors. Platelets may activate the healing process by stimulating a cascade of healing from stem cells that replicate to replace damaged tissue, including cartilage.
Evidence of reduced knee pain from PRP therapy
Treating osteoarthritis of the knee is one of the most promising applications of PRP therapy. The other area in which PRP therapy has shown to bring about significant improvement is tendinitis. In the case of OA of the knee, there have been several recent studies that show a reduction of pain following PRP therapy versus a placebo (non-therapeutic injection). The answers are not definitive yet (and are controversial, since they are still fairly new and unconventional) but are generally accepted as demonstrating enough promise to justify further research.
Variables in PRP therapy
One issue with measuring the benefit of PRP therapy for knee pain is that there is no standard for the serum itself. Each practitioner may use a different concentration of platelets in the injection used. The medium in which the platelets are mixed is not established or regulated. Each doctor no doubt discovers the best way to treat his or her own patients, but without peer-reviewed studies that control for variables, the results can’t be shared in any meaningful way.
One study hypothesized that mixing the platelets with a gelatin-like substance to act as a medium for “extended release” of the PRP should be further studied to see if the effect on pain is augmented or extended. There is obviously much more research to be done.
Is PRP therapy worth a try?
Many adults experience knee pain from OA. The treatments that are traditionally recommended for mild to moderate arthritis of the knee are not universally effective. That is, people often need to try a few different treatments before finding one that works for them. In addition, many treatments carry side effects from medication whether it is taken orally, topically, or by injection. And as an option to try before resorting to invasive joint repair or replacement surgery, PRP therapy may keep you off of the operating table.
PRP therapy is generally considered to be safe because it is made from your own blood. The only side effects are those that come from any injection plus some initial soreness and swelling that subsides within a few days to a week. The benefits of PRP therapy for knee pain have just begun to be explored. When used in conjunction with another treatment or on its own, it could offer relief from knee pain resulting from osteoarthritis or injury.
Dr. William F. Hefley, Jr. is a talented and experienced orthopedic surgeon who offers a wide range of treatments for arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. To discuss your pain and the possibility of having PRP therapy, call (800) 336-2412 to schedule an appointment at one of our Little Rock, AR locations, or you can use our convenient online appointment request form.