knee pain

If you’re a sports fan, you may have heard about this treatment for injuries. It’s called platelet-rich plasma injection, or PRP.

Athletes, from pro golfers to National Football League players, have used PRP. Many ordinary people now benefit from these injections as well.

What Are Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections?

PRP is a treatment for pain around joints, cartilage, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Doctors inject a concentrate of your plasma (the liquid part of the blood) that has an increased platelet count into the injured area.

PRP injections are a type of regenerative injection therapy (RIT). RIT stimulates the body’s natural ability to heal. Doctors use PRP injections for chronic (long-term) and acute (sudden) joint and connective tissue injuries.

This injection speeds the natural recovery process in the joint, tendon, or other connective tissue. It decreases pain and reduces inflammation.

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How Do Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections Work?

Blood consists of liquid (plasma) and solid components. The solid components of blood include red cells, white cells, and platelets.

Platelet-rich plasma injections contain higher-than-normal levels of platelets. Platelets are shards of cells that help blood clot and contain proteins that aid your body’s natural healing process.

What Happens When You Have a Platelet-Rich Plasma Injection?

Doctors can perform PRP on an outpatient basis in the office.

A lab worker draws blood as they would in a routine blood test. They place the blood in a centrifuge machine which separates plasma and platelets from the rest of the blood. This plasma contains many more platelets than normal blood.

Your doctor then injects the plasma solution at the site of the injury, using ultrasound to guide them to the right spot. Your doctor may recommend more than one injection.

You might have slight discomfort for a few days after the injections. Your doctor may recommend taking acetaminophen and icing the injection site for relief.

It’s best not to exercise vigorously immediately after your injection. Your doctor will likely discuss an activity plan for after the procedure, which differs based on your specific injury. They also will likely recommend combining PRP with physical therapy.

If your increased pain lasts more than a few days, you should call your doctor’s office. Keep in mind that patients often do not notice a great improvement in their pain until about six weeks after the injection.

Conditions Treated With Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections

Doctors treat many injuries with PRP injections. Some conditions and injuries they use PRP to treat are:

  • Knee arthritis (osteoarthritis).
  • Tendon injuries, such as tennis elbow or Achilles tendonitis.
  • Ligament injuries.
  • Muscle injuries, such as pulled hamstring muscles.
  • Rotator cuff tears and other rotator cuff injuries.

Risks of Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections

PRP injections are a relatively new treatment, so scientists are still analyzing how well they work for different conditions. Ask your doctor about the latest evidence supporting the use of PRP for your situation.

There aren’t many serious risks from PRP — side effects can include:

  • Some pain at the injection site.
  • Infection (very small risk).
  • Tissue damage (minimized with the use of ultrasound guidance).
  • Nerve injuries (minimized with the use of ultrasound guidance).

A caveat: PRP is usually not covered by insurance and costs for the treatment can vary. You should be evaluated by your doctor to discuss all treatment options for your condition. PRP is one possible treatment option.

To learn more or schedule an appointment with the UPMC Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, visit our website or call 412-692-4400.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP), Link

National Institutes of Health, Defining Platelet-Rich Plasma Usage by Team Physicians in Elite Athletes, Link

UPMC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Platelet-Rich Plasma and the Effects of Exercise on Tendon Injury, Link

UPMC, Using Your Blood for Natural Healing, Link

UPMC, What is Regenerative Injection Therapy? Link

About Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

At UPMC, we strive to improve your function after injury or illness. We help people recover from functional, pain-related, and neurological conditions, with both inpatient and outpatient care available. We are dedicated to providing you with exceptional clinical care and focused on developing new technologies and treatments to help you achieve mobility and maintain independence. Find a provider near you.