What Is Platelet-rich Plasma Therapy?

Originally published April 26, 2019

Last updated April 29, 2024

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You may have heard about the healing properties of platelet-rich plasma, or PRP, therapy. Here’s what science currently says about what it can do for sports injuries and arthritis.

Picture this: Your cat scratches you, leaving a red wound. Within minutes, it stops bleeding, and before you know it, a scab has formed, and the scratch is on its way to healing. Easy, right?

You can thank your platelets for the quick recovery.

Blood is composed of plasma (the liquid) and solid components, including red and white blood cells and, of course, platelets. Each component serves its own purpose, and the purpose of platelets is to clot blood at wound sites and help heal them. They’re the reason you won’t bleed out from a paper cut — and, as it turns out, they may offer benefits in the form of platelet-rich plasma, or PRP, therapy.

What makes PRP therapy different from my own blood?

Platelets release growth factors, which are proteins that essentially kick-start healing. In PRP, the plasma in question contains a higher level of platelets.

“PRP contains 5-10 times the concentration of growth factors than what you find in normal blood,” says Alexander Weber, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine at Keck Medicine of USC and assistant professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

This higher dose of growth factors, when returned to the body, can potentially accelerate the healing process.

How is PRP administered?

In PRP treatment, the doctor draws blood from a vein and places it in a centrifuge, which separates the platelet-rich component from the whole blood. The platelet-rich component is then injected into the painful area.

Does PRP work?

A 2017 USC-led study, which combined data from more than 35 studies, found that PRP significantly decreased long-term pain in people with rotator cuff injuries and lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow. Other studies have found promising results in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis, particularly when PRP is introduced early on.

In some cases, PRP offers advantages over other traditional minimally invasive treatments, like steroid injections.

For treatment of rotator cuff injuries, “it can help patients in the short term with pain relief and functional improvement, and it doesn’t have the negative side effects that steroids do, in terms of causing tendon degeneration,” Dr. Weber says.

There’s good reason to be optimistic about PRP, seeing as it can address certain orthopedic injuries. If you have a sports injury or another type of orthopedic issue, talk to your doctor to see if PRP is an option for you.

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Deanna Pai
Deanna Pai is a freelance writer and editor.

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