Could Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy Be Right for You?

Dr. Michael Sander always considers conservative, nonsurgical options first when making treatment recommendations—and platelet-rich plasma therapy is one such example. Platelet-rich plasma therapy is a nonsurgical approach for treating certain injuries and serves as an effective alternative to medication or surgery.

This therapy is most famously known for its use among high-profile professional athletes, and is also available for everyday patients at Sander Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine! What makes this option so attractive is it works by using the natural healing ability of substances in a patient’s own blood. The blood in the body is made up of several substances invisible to the naked eye, one of which is platelets. When an injury arises, platelets travel through the bloodstream and gather at the injury site to perform several functions. One function in particular is the release of substances called growth factors. The task of growth factors is to promote healing and regeneration of damaged tissue, bone, and other structures in the body.

However, certain areas in the body have a poor blood supply. This can limit or slow their ability to heal. In general, areas where a tendon attaches to a bone have less blood supply than other areas. Some examples are tendons of the knee, shoulder, elbow, or ankle. That means that when an injury arises in those areas, platelets cannot adequately reach the injury to stimulate healing. Platelet-rich plasma therapy harnesses the natural healing ability of platelets to treat certain injuries, particularly those in areas that platelets cannot reach.

The therapy involves drawing a small sample of a patient’s blood and then separating the platelets from the blood. The platelets are recombined with the blood sample at a concentration several times higher than normal. The physician then injects the mixture at the site of the injury. The injected platelets release a flood of growth factors, in turn promoting rapid healing of the damaged tissue and other structures. Although fast, the healing in not instant. It usually takes at least a few weeks, and in fact, pain may worsen during this time. If healing and pain relief does not occur after a few weeks, additional injections may be recommended. Protocols to treat tendon injuries and arthritis are active areas of research, and continue to evolve.

Dr. Sander and his experienced team use this therapy to treat several conditions, the most common being the following:

Shoulder bursitis

Shoulder bursitis is inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled pad that protects and cushions the shoulder joint, and leads to shoulder pain.

Arthritis

Arthritis is inflammation of the joints and leads to pain and stiffness. One joint commonly affected is the shoulder and as such is termed shoulder arthritis.

Tendinopathy

Tendinopathy is a general term for a disease involving a tendon, which is a thick, white cord of tissue that attaches muscle to bone. One type of tendinopathy commonly treated with platelet-rich plasma is tennis elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis. Tennis elbow is pain in the elbow that occurs as a result of the overuse of the tendons in the area and, despite its name, is not limited to tennis players.

In addition, this therapy can be used for muscle tears, ankle sprains, and injury to a ligament (thick band of tissue that connects two bones).

Although effective, platelet-rich plasma therapy is not a cure-all treatment for every patient. For some injuries, the effectiveness of this therapy is unclear and debated among those in the medical community. Research continues to explore which injuries can and cannot be treated with platelet-rich plasma. Dr. Sander uses platelet-rich plasma therapy only when research supports its use, and he stays up-to- date with the latest research and effective uses of this therapy, providing the best possible care to his patients in the Rio Grande Valley.

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