Summer sports are almost upon us and everyone is looking forward to biking, surfing, and Ultimate Frisbee. But is your body ready for your favorite sun-filled activity, and the injuries that may come with it?
Summer can be an especially rough season for our bodies as our joints and muscles are usually under-worked and out of shape from the winter season, and we often try to get back in shape too quickly. This can aggravate pre-existing arthritis, and make our tendons and ligaments more susceptible to strains and tears. Though we all hope we’ll make it through this sunny season without injury, muscle tears and sprained joints are all too common summer injuries.
Patients are often looking for non-surgical options to heal their soft tissue injuries quickly, and return to sports and other healthy activities. There is a new treatment option that’s quickly gaining attention as a fast and effective treatment for soft tissue injuries.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are a fascinating new treatment for several orthopedic conditions including tendonitis, torn tendons, and even osteoarthritis. These are injections of components of your own blood; injected directly into the site of injury, in an effort to stimulate your body’s own healing response.
PRP is blood plasma that has been enhanced with a large concentration of platelet cells taken from the patient’s own blood. These platelets contain several growth factors that stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal bone and soft tissue. Previously used in operating rooms to promote wound healing and bone growth, this technique is now becoming a popular in-office, non-surgical option for the treatment of damaged or torn tissue in several joints.
So how does PRP work? First, a sample of the patient’s blood is drawn and placed in a centrifuge to separate the plasma from the red blood cells and platelets. Once enough platelets have been isolated, the freshly created platelet-rich plasma is injected into the injured issue. This introduces a large amount of essential healing proteins to the injured site, while maintaining a very low chance of side effects since the patient is using their own blood. PRP is thought to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself, and optimizes these effects by increasing the number of growth factors and reparative cells in the area.
Though there is still research being done, studies have shown that PRP does help increase the concentration of specific growth factors that are especial to the healing processes of both bone and soft tissue. It is not yet clear if these injections are more effective than other treatment options, but several famous athletes including Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, Alex Rodriguez formerly of the New York Yankees, and pro-golfer Tiger Woods have credited this technique for their quick and successful recoveries. Olympic swimming medalist Dara Torres, several of the Pittsburg Steelers players, and tennis great Maria Sharapova also chose PRP injections to help overcome their own knee and shoulder injuries. PRP therapy was still considered highly experimental when these athletes underwent the procedure, but many success stories have since been shared both among professional athletes and my very own patients.
Whether you plan to spend your summer months at the beach, playing racquetball, or trekking your way through the mountaintops, it’s important to always be aware of the risk to your body. You should have a warm-up routine of at least 5-10 minutes, gently stretch before physical activity (especially for activities that demand muscle flexibility like yoga and beach activities), and make sure your clothes and gear fit properly. And if the unfortunate does happen, and you find yourself face-to-face with a torn ligament or tendon, see if a platelet-rich plasma injection is an appropriate treatment option for you. PRP therapy may be new to the orthopedic scene, but if its popularity in professional sports is any indication, it could quickly become the next big thing in acute and chronic soft tissue injuries.
Written By: Dr. Noah Weiss M.D.