Seemingly minor tendon injuries can sideline athletes for a long time. Even non-athletes suffering through a tendon injury or disease may eventually find themselves unable to do some of the things they used to do. But doctors are now learning how to apply PRP (platelet-rich plasma) therapy to help such patients heal.
PRP therapy has been in use as a wound-healing treatment for decades. Doctors have also used it to treat chronic osteoarthritis pain for quite some time. Yet not until a few years ago did sports medicine doctors begin looking into PRP for tendon injuries.
Such injuries have some unique properties that make them good candidates for PRP therapy. Every patient does not respond to treatment the same way, though, so PRP therapy cannot be guaranteed any more than traditional treatments.
An Explanation of Tendons
Muscle is held to bone by tendons. Some have likened tendons to physiological ropes that keep everything nice and tight. When tendons are injured or diseased, they lose their ability to keep muscle and bone tightly connected. This can lead to pain, inflammation, stiffness, and eventual loss of function.
One of the unique properties of tendon injuries is how inflammation occurs. A damaged tendon will become inflamed almost immediately, but the inflammation subsides over time. That means someone with a chronic tendon injury may experience chronic pain even though inflammation has subsided. Continuing to treat the injury with anti-inflammatories and pain medications does very little.
Even more importantly, inflammation is part of the healing process. Inflammation facilitates the repair process by alerting the body that damage has been done. But because tendon inflammation subsides, the healing process can be slowed or entirely stopped. It may never be completed in some cases.
PRP therapy helps by keeping the signaling alive. The growth factors in PRP see to that. By injecting PRP directly into the region of the damaged tendon, a doctor is initiating the signaling process that tells the body to send stem cells and other necessary material to the site of injury. Those stem cells combine with the nutrients, growth factors, and other components of PRP to get healing underway.
When Tissue Breaks down
Another one of the unique properties of tendon issues is how tissue responds. For example, inflammation begins to subside in a long-term injury scenario because the tissue itself is breaking down. Doctors rely mainly on surgery in such cases to address the broken-down tissue by removing it and sewing together what remains.
This strategy does work to a certain degree. But because the damaged tissue is not replaced, surgery can relieve pain without necessarily improving function. PRP therapy is seen as an advantageous alternative because, when it works as designed, it results in the body replacing the damaged tissue.
PRP therapy is minimally invasive as compared to surgery as well. It works because as patients are treated with blood platelets they themselves donate, there is almost no risk of complications. This makes PRP therapy an excellent alternative to surgery.
Tendon injuries and disease pose special challenges to doctors who want to both alleviate pain and promote healing. Unfortunately, traditional treatments such as surgery and pharmaceuticals only treat the symptoms of injury. They do nothing to promote healing. PRP therapy does.
Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI), a Utah company that trains doctors in PRP procedures, encourages family practice clinicians, internists, and doctors specializing in sports medicine to consider embracing PRP therapy for their own practices. Though it may not be the perfect solution for every musculoskeletal injury, it does work well for a lot of people.