Sports Docs’ Weekly Blitz: PRP injections

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Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears recently had a PRP injection intended to speed the recovery of his injured knee MCL. Other notable athletes –Tiger Woods, Rafael Nadal and many others have received PRP.

What is PRP?

PRP is Platelet Rich Plasma.

Blood can be separated into its solid components: white cells, red cells & platelets and its liquid, called plasma. The platelets are mainly known for their clotting abilities, but also contain many growth factors.  These are important in the healing of injuries. When blood is drawn from an athlete and centrifuged in a special way, we can obtain a special layer of fluid called the platelet rich portion. This layer is particularly rich in these growth factors. 

PRP can be injected in a sterile fashion into tendon, ligament or muscle injuries hoping to expedite the recovery of the athlete. Often, ultrasound is used to optimize accuracy of the injection. PRP looks especially promising to help speed certain type of chronic tendon injuries, such as patellar tendinitis. 

PRP can also be used in conjunction with certain surgical procedures. Rotator cuff surgery is an example. Knee arthritis is another potential application.


What is fact and what is fantasy?

Intense research is underway, yet few quality medical studies have substantiated statistically significant improvement using this technique. Although favorable anecdotal cases abound, claims in the media/internet have not been validated by scientific studies. 

Treatment with platelet rich plasma shows great promise. We approach PRP injections with cautious optimism. 

It is clear that we have much to learn about the preparation and use of PRP. At this time insurance does not cover these injections that cost $700 or more. At ISU, Drs. Warme, Greenwald and myself feel that under appropriate circumstances, PRP is a reasonable option. We have not seen any serious side effects and frequently we feel a good response has occurred. However, a speedier recovery is not guaranteed by any means. 


Dr. Peter Buck