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Can Platelet-Rich Plasma Fast-Track Your Recovery From Injury? 

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a seasoned professional, the high of crossing a finish line, the rush of beating a personal best, and the relentless grind of pushing physical limits are all too familiar. And so is the fine line between peak performance and the precipice of injury. The throb of an overworked joint, the sting of a muscle pushed just a bit too far, and the daunting realization that tomorrow’s training session looms large remain the unspoken worries of athletes at all levels. In other words, is it time to look into PRP therapy?

With the rise of regenerative medicine and the ever-growing trend of biohacking, professional athletes like Tiger Woods and Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Orlando Brown have started to tap into their own body’s resources to accelerate recovery and performance. And they’re not tapping into their own body in a mystical sense, but through the cutting-edge science of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy. It might sound like they’ve stumbled upon a biological cheat code, but is it a shortcut to recovery, or is there more to the story?

To get the lowdown, we spoke with Asghar Husain, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and medical director of the Ontario Reign professional hockey team, who has seen his fair share of athletes, both elite and amateur, seeking the promised benefits of PRP.

As Dr. Husain, a seasoned expert in shoulder, elbow, and knee surgery, shares, “Although plasma-based products have been around since the ’70s and ’80s, it’s really in the last 20 years that we’ve seen a surge in their use for musculoskeletal injuries and joint problems.”

What is PRP Therapy?

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy is a form of regenerative medicine that utilizes your body’s natural healing processes to help repair damaged tissue and lower inflammation. How is that even possible? Those platelets are packed with more than 1,500 bioactive factors—think of them as a squad of growth factors, immune system messengers, enzymes, and other factors, all ready to jump into action for tissue repair and wound healing. Since you are the donor and the recipient, you don’t have to worry about cross-contamination, disease transmission or your immune system resisting it.


How PRP Therapy Treatment Works

The procedure involves drawing a small sample of your blood, and then spinning it in a centrifuge to super-concentrate the platelets. This concentrated juice is then injected into the injured area, where it releases growth factors that accelerate tissue repair and regeneration. Imagine your body’s healing power on steroids (figuratively speaking, of course). Dr. Husain explains it’s most often utilized for chronic partial tendon and ligament tears, joint damage, and arthritis. PRP may ramp up the delivery of blood and nutrients where it’s injected which can come in handy, especially since these injuries are notoriously slow to heal due to poor blood flow or sluggish cell turnover.

Recovery Time

Asking about the recovery time with PRP is like asking how long it takes to get those calf muscle gains—it varies. Dr. Husain explains that some folks might bounce back quicker, while others find it’s not the magic bullet they hoped for. “Because PRP is stimulating the normal cascade of events, theoretically, it can speed up the time course for some conditions,” he says. “For some types of muscle/tendon injuries, evidence has shown the timeline has been shortened. However, there is a lot of conflicting evidence, and generally speaking, it is currently not fully clear whether we’re really shortening the timeline.”

And if you’re wondering whether this is a one-and-done or a series of treatments, the doc says it’s more of a ‘see-how-it-goes’ situation. “There are responders and non-responders,” Dr. Husain says. “For many experienced practitioners, it depends on the initial result. If a patient has a positive outcome, they may benefit from repeated use. Some studies show a benefit when using PRP weekly for three weeks for joint arthritis.”

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When Should You Start Considering It?

So, when should you consider drafting PRP into your team of recovery strategies? After you’ve tried the basic plays and are still limping on the sidelines. Dr. Husain highlights that while “there is no current widely accepted recommendation that is backed by scientific evidence,” he advises considering it for those hard-to-heal, chronic injuries — partial tendon or ligament tears or joint damage—that haven’t responded to conventional methods such as physical therapy or anti-inflammatories.

“As a provider, when having this discussion, it’s also good to make sure there is no significant structural damage and no significant functional issues that need to be addressed differently,” he points out.

Professional athletics has started to widely adopt PRP as an option for athletes in season who are trying to get back to play as quickly as possible. “Many professional athletic training rooms and medical facilities have PRP equipment readily available,” Dr. Husain notes, adding that he’s even seen cases where PRP helped athletes “avoid or delay surgeries.”

With increased adoption, studies started to emerge too; however, nearly not enough yet. A recent study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine shed light on the cautious optimism among NFL team physicians regarding biologics like PRP. The study underscored a shared belief in PRP’s potential to enhance healing and symptom improvement post-injury in NFL athletes. Yet, it also highlighted a caveat: the current lack of comprehensive data to steer treatment decisions confidently. Additionally, team doctors agreed on PRP’s effectiveness for patellar tendinopathy (jumper’s knee) and early knee osteoarthritis. Yet, when it comes to other conditions such as Achilles tendinopathy, hamstring and acromioclavicular joint injuries, opinions varied significantly.

How Much Does PRP Therapy Cost?

The cost of PRP therapy might have you doing a double-take, with a price tag that can swing from $500 to thousands per injection. It may vary by region and medical practitioner. While insurance companies are slowly getting on board with very few offering reimbursements, you might still have to pony up the cash yourself. Dr. Husain has hope that “with continued results and studies, I expect there will be more coverage,” he says.

Is PRP Guaranteed to Work?

PRP is less of a guarantee and more of a gamble at this point. Addressing its effectiveness, Dr. Husain cautions that defining success with PRP is challenging. “There have been studies that show longer pain relief with PRP than other methods. However, in muscle and tendon injuries, there’s conflicting evidence on whether the outcome is any different,” he explains, adding that substantial structural damage and poor muscle function are less ideal conditions for PRP treatment.

Beyond Recovery

Looking beyond injury recovery, Dr. Husain says that, theoretically, improved performance may be an outcome of PRP improving the biology of muscles. “However, I’m not aware of any well-done studies that have concluded that the use of PRP is the primary cause of improved strength and endurance,” he explained noting that, on the other hand, there is evidence supporting the use of PRP in improving joint pain.

While primarily considered a regenerative medicine method, Dr. Husain has seen broader applications of PRP in cosmetics and “biohacking,” where its biology-enhancing properties are explored—think hair restoration and “vampire facials”. However, he underscores that the increase in popularity doesn’t mean steady science. “From what I have seen, evidence is still lacking on methodology for proper use. So many claims are being made, and not clear whether these claims can be reliably achieved,” he says.

Dr. Husain hints at a future where tweaking blood products and diving into new biologics could open up new arenas for recovery and performance. “Many studies are currently underway at different centers around the world,” he adds. Science moves at a slow pace, but imagine, how soon PRP may become as common in recovery regimens as ice packs and compression boots.

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