To understand PRP and stem cell therapy which is a relatively new minimally invasive procedure being increasingly used by physicians all across the country, we must first understand that the body has its own healing mechanisms. The Virginia Spine Institute points out quite accurately that our blood is made up of 93% red blood cells, 6% white blood cells, 1% platelets and plasma. Platelets are best known for their function of blood-clotting to stop bleeding. Platelets, however, are much more significant than this, as human platelets are also a critical component in injury healing. In PRP or Platelet Rich plasma, blood is drawn from the patient and spun at high velocity in most commonly a centrifuge to separate out the red blood cells, white blood cells and most importantly the platelets and plasma, hence the name. A high concentration of platelets, which is desired for their growth factors is then injected into the patient which can address a whole host of conditions.
Here are a few for you to note;
- Muscle injuries (i.e. hamstrings, biceps, triceps, quadriceps tears or sprains)
- Ligament injuries (i.e. ACL, MCL, LCL tears or sprains)
- Tendon injuries (i.e. tendonitis, rotator cuff tears, etc.)
- Golfer’s and Tennis elbow
- Degenerative conditions (i.e. arthritis, degenerative disc disease, etc.)
- Neck and back pain
- Nerve injury
- Post-surgical wound healing
- Stress fractures
- Burns, skin graft donor sites
These growth factors help to accelerate the natural healing proponent of the body, which is why these procedures are so attractive to both physicians and patients alike. Virginia Spine institute summarizes it best by explaining “Injecting these growth factors into damaged ligaments, tendons, and joints stimulates the natural repair process. In order to maximize the healing process, the platelets must be concentrated and separated from the red blood cells. The goal of PRP is to maximize the number of platelets while minimizing the number of red blood cells in a solution that is injected into the injured or pained area(s). PRP creates, stimulates, and accelerates the body’s natural healing process.”
PRP is simply taking what the body already does naturally over time and grossly accelerating the process, once injected it clots the blood to stop bleeding to the area and then signals to the body that repair of the area needs to take place, the acceleration process of recovery in this case has a corollary to the concentration of platelets injected to the localized area. This is a godsend for patients that want a solution to musculoskeletal sprains and tears throughout the body, especially in extreme cases where a complex surgical options would be the only other alternative.
Stem Cell Therapy on the other hand is the next level up, in the regenerative medicine chain. Stem cells are pre-cultivated and created in a lab, not by drawing of a patient’s blood and separating platelets, mesenchymal stem cells or (MSC’s) have more clinical efficacy in rejuvenating, restoring tissue, and repairing soft tissue injuries. According to Regenexx a well-established stem cell company, “MSC therapy would be more appropriate for degenerative diseases where there is lost tissue (like chronic arthritis, a partial tendon or ligament tear, a lower back disc where there are torn fibers allowing the disc to bulge).” Stem cell therapies are also being utilized for other treatments like erectile dysfunction, Alzheimer’s and even advanced experimental treatment parameters for autism.
It is critical as a disclaimer that while the future of regenerative medicine utilizing PRP and Stem cell therapy is bright, this is still largely an experimental based field, research papers and double blind clinical studies are still being done today to substantiate the clinical efficacy of these procedures. Nevertheless the results thus far for patients have been excellent and both patients and providers love the fact that these treatments are fast and easy to administer, relatively painless, and of course in many cases, very effective for a wide range of conditions seen thus far.