PRP Myths and Truths Debunked
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) has become increasingly popular over the past several years. The media has helped to fuel this popularity by profiling elite athletes returning to form after treatment with PRP. Patients often ask about treatment with PRP after hearing about Tiger Woods, Raphael Nadal, Hines Ward, Alex Rodriguez, and other players’ responses to their treatments. Unfortunately, there is little information on exactly what treatment these individuals received or what was done prior to or after the PRP treatment.
Unlike pharmaceuticals, PRP preparations, contents, concentration, and potency are not regulated, monitored, or standardized. Each vendor has a different process or technique for preparation and no two give the same final product. There are even substantial differences with the same technique with different individuals or even with the same individual from day to day.
In the normal healing process, the body utilizes a variety of pieces to help itself heal after an injury (white blood cells, platelets, etc.). The premise of PRP therapy is to inject a massive concentration of platelets and supporting proteins (and in some preparations white blood cells) directly into damaged tissue. While the marketing demonstrations lead the consumer to believe this can get them back on the field, there is little research to support the effectiveness of its use for most conditions.
The use of PRP in soft tissue injury is limited and no long-term data has confirmed that PRP is more effective than a saline injection. There are several studies that have been produced in the past five years looking at PRP with Achilles tendon injury, rotator cuff repair, and meniscal repair. These studies often find varying results or have little long-term data. Despite this lack of definitive evidence there is an ongoing effort to scientifically evaluate the benefits of PRP therapy.
However, there is some hope that PRP can help certain injuries. For example, PRP has been shown to be more effective than placebo in patients with chronic tennis elbow. The good news is that PRP therapy is very safe with little chance of making an injury worse. There is also still substantial potential for future research to demonstrate a clear benefit for treatment. The bad news is that currently there is no data to support the use of PRP therapy in day-to-day patient care.