Chronic joint pain is a problem that afflicts more than 53 million Americans, much of which is attributed to arthritis. But that’s not the only cause, meaning this is a complex pain to treat. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is an exciting therapy that harnesses your body’s own healing powers to repair tissue, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain. And at New You Medical in Fort Lauderdale, FL, treatment takes just 30 minutes.
Does PRP Work for Joint Pain?
It does, but rather than take our word for it, we’d like to share the important findings of two clinical studies. One involved patients with osteoarthritis in both knees, each treated with a PRP or placebo injection. Participants were evaluated at six weeks, three months, and six months, and researchers found:
- Knees that received PRP showed pain and stiffness reduction and improved function
- Patients treated with the placebo experienced more pain and stiffness and lost function
Another study asked participants with mild knee pain to undergo an MRI to assess joint damage and then have a single PRP injection. One year later, each knee underwent a second MRI, and researchers found:
- Most patients experienced less pain at the one-year mark
- MRI results showed the degenerative process had stopped in most of the treated knees
- Knee cartilage remained stable
What Is Platelet-Rich Plasma?
In essence, it is your blood, which partly explains why this therapy is so widely recognized as being safe. Treatment requires little more than drawing your blood and injecting it back into your body in a targeted treatment site. To better understand, you should know your blood can be divided into three essential components:
- Plasma, the liquid part that contains salts, vitamins, and other substances
- Red and white blood cells
- Platelets that clot damaged blood vessels
Blood cells and platelets alike are suspended within the plasma; to separate them, we place your blood into a centrifuge for several minutes. The platelet-rich plasma is then isolated in a concentration up to 10 times greater than that of whole blood. This is what we use for treatment, as platelets do more than simply clot an injury site; they also secrete growth factors and stimulate cell growth and proliferation.
Right now, you’re probably wondering what growth factors have to do with joint pain. They play significant roles in cartilage regeneration, help to regulate collagen synthesis, and prompt cellular proliferation. Studies confirm these properties can substantially reduce joint pain and improve joint function; even as little as three treatments of platelet-rich plasma can increase the treated joint’s range of motion, meaning results can show relatively quickly.
Growth factors are polypeptides that promote cell differentiation and division. In treating joint pain, they are instrumental in cartilage repair and rejuvenation, thus restoring a cushion to joint surfaces that promotes fluid movement and reduces weight-bearing stress. In other words, cartilage repair can return a joint to a state of health.
Explaining the Mechanism
Once platelets are injected, growth factors get secreted within just 10 minutes. Many growth factors are involved in joint pain relief, including tissue growth factor (TGF) and fibroblast growth factor (FGF). We singled out these two because they play direct roles in cartilage replenishment, but other factors perform equally important tasks like re-establishing blood vessels to enhance nutrient delivery.
Platelet-rich plasma can also heal tendon tissue, which has a low metabolic rate that impedes natural repair. The premise here is similar to that of cartilage regeneration: by repairing and/or replacing tissues, the tendons recover their strength in a way that supports normal joint function and reduces pain.
A Study of Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural barrier against outside invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. It routinely follows an injury and is a precursor to osteoarthritis. In patients with knee injuries, the swelling that accompanies inflammation can be great enough to prevent movement. This means you may have trouble getting in and out of a car, standing after sitting, or vice versa.
The point is that inflammation, although a positive reaction, can become problematic when left unchecked. It comes before cartilage breakdown and is therefore responsible for the bone-on-bone situations many people find themselves in after a chronic injury. And when joints live in a state of inflammation, they are also in a state of degradation.
Treatment Can Help
PRP has shown in clinical studies to decrease inflammation in the synovial membrane. This protective layer of tissue exists in several different places, including joint cavities, and contains localized pain receptors. Its purpose is to create fluid that helps lubricate joints.
During inflammation, the membrane responds by producing excessive synovial fluid. Too much fluid causes joints to become stiff and swollen. Platelet-rich plasma helps by decreasing the fluid’s volume and concentration, thereby restoring function in a way that can strengthen muscles and allow further repair.
What You Need to Know About Treatment
One of the most important points to be made is that you’ll need more than a single session to benefit from treatment. Some patients believe platelet-rich plasma works like a cortisone shot in that one injection can provide relief for six months to a year. But in reality, you need a series of injections because we’re doing more than masking pain; we’re treating the underlying condition so you can return to the activities you love.
This brings us to our next point: PRP is a component of regenerative medicine, which focuses on the broad cellular, developmental, and molecular processes that promote the development of fresh, healthy tissues. The goals of this field are to:
- Study the mechanisms of tissue regeneration and how they can be used to reduce symptoms like pain
- Apply the knowledge gained from this study and develop therapies that promote functional regeneration of tissues when they lack the capacity to regenerate on their own
These applications are vastly different from traditional medicine practices that bypass underlying causes and work only to manage symptoms. The methodologies of modern medicine often force patients to constantly seek new therapies as their bodies either develop tolerances to current treatments or simply don’t respond as intended. PRP, on the other hand, reduces or eliminates this constant state of trial and error.
Treatment Is Very Safe
Thanks to their far-reaching benefits of PRP, it is used in a variety of medical applications, including restoring hair growth in male pattern baldness, enhancing cosmetic treatments, improving the outcomes of dental procedures, and treating both complex and routine injuries. It is heralded as being safe by trainers, healthcare providers, and even professional sports players.
These attributes are owed to the fact that treatment uses your own tissues. There is no risk of bio-incompatibility, adverse responses, or allergic reactions. Patients especially favor the absence of chemicals, toxins, and foreign agents.
Development of Results
Treatment yields the most visible results within three to six months. Keep in mind the many benefits we’ve listed here take time to develop. Tissue regeneration depends on a variety of factors, including the extent of your injury, your age, and the state of your overall health, and therefore occurs at different speeds for different patients.
Although results are not permanent, they are long-lasting. Patients rarely need more than one maintenance session per year, meaning your life will not be interrupted by the need for constant therapy.
Backed by Science
Platelets are cell fragments oval-shaped that, when injured, rush to sites of injury. This explains the swelling you experience after cutting or bruising your skin. The platelets coagulate to stop blood loss and then begin the healing process. This is the body’s way of responding to tissue damage, and by harnessing this power, we simply give a boost to those tissues that need it most.
Compared to Hyaluronic Acid
A great deal of research has been devoted to comparing this therapy with hyaluronic acid (HA). HA occurs naturally in the joints, where it helps lubricate bones and assists in cartilage development. Injections of hyaluronic acid have been used as a means to treat osteoarthritis, but PRP, in comparison, delivers improved clinical outcomes.
A study from the University of California Davis proved that platelet-rich plasma not only relieves osteoarthritis symptoms but also influences the superficial zone protein (SZP) to help lubricate joints and reduce wear and friction. It acts in a similar manner to HA with the added benefit of healing tissues, which HA is not intended to do.
A Better Treatment Than Cortisone
We’ve already remarked upon the comparison commonly drawn between this treatment and cortisone, but a number of studies further conclude these therapies yield very different results. Corticosteroid injections, for instance, are used only for pain management and show the potential for rapidly destroying joint integrity, including bone loss. In other studies, platelet-rich plasma has shown more significant results for:
- Pain relief
- Significantly easing other symptoms
- Restoring mobility for improved daily living and quality of life
The Difficulty of Treating Joint Pain
The common thread with all joint pain is the inflammation that ensues. We’re circling back to this topic because inflammation, although a natural response, can prevent blood from delivering the building blocks necessary for most of the body’s repair processes. This is true in speaking of both muscle and joint injuries, meaning inflammation must be a target of any viable treatment.
Identifying the Cause
But one of the problems that must first be tackled is determining the initial cause of said pain, which can range from overuse to bursitis. Additional causes include sports injuries and arthritis, of which there are between 100 and 200 different kinds. Arthritis exists deep inside joints and is very different from muscle injuries in that it cannot be treated with heat, cold, or massage.
In addition, chronic joint pain often reflects a degenerative condition made worse by a sedentary lifestyle. This is cyclic in nature, as joint pain reduces mobility, which in turn puts a patient at risk for lost movement and obesity. Weight gain places stress on the joints that only makes pain and inflammation worse. You can therefore see how one leads into and exacerbates the other.
A Multi-Faceted Treatment
Platelet-rich plasma addresses the many facets of joint pain in a way traditional medications cannot. It neither masks symptoms nor poses side effects that can further impede healing. Once results begin to develop, patients experience improved mobility and reduced swelling. Schedule your consultation today by calling New You Medical in Fort Lauderdale, FL.