Stem cell therapy has been an emerging science and health care field for a few decades. In the 1980s, a breakthrough in this technology occurred with the development of bone marrow transplantation as a form of treatment for some conditions such as leukemia.
More recently, stem cell therapy has been applied to other conditions such as arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal cord injury, and Parkinson’s disease.
Platelet-rich plasma is one of the most common types of stem cell therapy that doctors are using today. The procedure involves drawing some blood out of a patient and injecting the platelet-rich plasma into the joints. Many people have been very optimistic about this treatment over the past couple of years.
What is Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)?
Platelets are small blood particles that are usually clumped together in your blood, and their main function is to clump together to stop bleeding when you cut yourself. When you have osteoarthritis, your joints become inflamed.
This inflammation causes the blood to leak out of the joints, leading to a condition called “drip,” where the joint is full of fluid. This swelling might occur with as little as a few days’ worth of fluid, and it might not be able to be fixed with regular joint injections of corticosteroids.
Many patients are in much pain, and PRP has been looked at as a form of treatment for painful conditions that don’t respond to steroid injections.
PRP is plasma that has been extracted from the blood of a patient. It is rich in platelets, which are the parts of your blood that help with clotting. When you have PRP, you need to get a sample processed by your doctor.
He will prepare it to contain a small number of stem cells, a small number of growth factors, and a high concentration of platelets. The stem cells, growth factors, and platelets will help repair damaged tissue and joints. This is accomplished in several ways, including PRP injections and PRP facials.
1. PRP injections
The PRP injection is a treatment that uses platelet-rich plasma to stimulate the healing of injured joints and connective tissue. In this treatment, your physician may inject PRP directly into your joint, or they may use an ultrasound machine to precisely target the affected area.
2. PRP Facials
The PRP facial is a treatment in which your physician will administer PRP directly to your facial skin. This gives you the added benefit of a targeted, localized treatment. PRP facials can treat joint pain and inflammation and acute skin conditions such as eczema and acne.
Uses of PRP Injections
The body heals itself very rapidly for most injuries and doesn’t require additional treatment. However, when a body part has been severely damaged, it can take months or years to heal.
In such cases, PRP treatment can speed up recovery significantly. This is true for the joints and cartilage in particular, which are metabolically very active tissues and require regular nourishment.
PRP injections help stimulate these tissues and provide the needed nutrients. The treatment is very simple and involves injecting a small amount of the platelet-rich plasma into the affected area. PRP therapy works because platelets in the blood naturally release growth factors when they come into contact with trauma.
Today, there are several ways to get PRP treatments. Some doctors will provide them as a stand-alone procedure, while others will include it in a more comprehensive stem cell therapy plan.
Doctors have used PRP injections to treat various conditions, including:
- Orthopedists and sports medicine physicians use PRP therapy to treat tennis elbow, elbow pain, knee pain, and other joint conditions.
- Dentists use PRP injections to speed up healing and cure soft tissue and bone damage after tooth extractions, implants, or periodontal surgery.
- surgeons of all kinds use PRP to expedite wound healing and minimize infection rates.
- Plastic surgeons use PRP injections in reconstructive surgery to speed up the healing process and prevent infections. It also helps to reduce swelling and make scars less visible.
- Dermatologists use PRP injections to treat: scars and skin tightness from acne, keloids, bruising, and acne scars.
- Otolaryngologists use PRP injections to treat vocal cord nodules, laryngitis, and damage to the ear.
PRP Therapy Precautions
PRP therapy requires very few precautions as long as your physician is aware of any medical conditions you may have and the medications you are taking.
You should not receive PRP injections if:
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding (see the above section on risks)
- You have a history of allergies to any blood products or components
- You have a low platelet count (less than 20,000 per microliter)
- You are taking anticoagulants (blood-thinning medications such as warfarin)
Additionally, you will receive a thorough physical examination, and your blood will be tested before the PRP injection to ensure that you do not have a serious blood-borne infection (HBBI). Your physician will also test your blood after the PRP injection to see if any blood components have caused an allergic reaction.
PRP Therapy Risks and Side Effects
In addition to being an effective treatment for injured tissues, platelet-rich plasma is not without risk. These risks are generally caused by the donated platelets and the PRP components.
PRP therapy’s most serious side effect is septicemia, which occurs when bacteria (or other pathogens) enter a host’s bloodstream through wounds or injection sites. While this is a rare event, it can lead to serious conditions such as kidney infection and meningitis (brain inflammation).
For this reason, your physician will test your blood before and after the injection to ensure that you do not have a serious blood-borne infection (HBBI) or any other diseases you may be taking blood-thinning medications for.
PRP therapy and injection site reactions are also possible. These reactions may include skin redness, swelling, tenderness, and pain comparable to a mosquito bite. Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis are common side effects of PRP-related injections.
Does PRP Work?
While the FDA hasn’t approved PRP therapy for any particular medical conditions, many studies document the effectiveness of the treatment in various conditions. A few include:
- A study conducted by the University of Cincinnati states that platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy can potentially help reverse the effects of aging and prevent osteoarthritis.
- A study published in the journal “Arthritis and Rheumatism” discusses how PRP therapy can be used to treat arthritis of the knee successfully.
- A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine asserts how PRP therapy benefits patients with shoulder problems.
- A study published in Arthritis Care & Research states how PRP therapy effectively reduces pain, inflammation, and swelling following joint replacement surgery.
- A study published in the journal “Cell Transplant” discovered how PRP therapy could help successfully treat hair loss.
- A study published in the journal “Aesthetic Plastic Surgery” discusses the medical uses of platelet-rich plasma and states how it can be used to treat facial wounds and burns.
PRP therapy appears to be a promising yet controversial procedure for treating various conditions. This treatment possesses few reported serious side effects and has been deemed safe enough for use in children. It is also a relatively simple process that involves minimal discomfort and can be applied by patients at home.
Despite the clear benefits of PRP therapy, there is a lack of evidence regarding the long-term risks or usefulness of the treatment. It is also unclear how effective PRP therapy is for young and growing children and older adults (over 60).
The FDA has not approved PRP therapy for any particular medical conditions. As a result, the safety and effectiveness of this service remain unclear.