My Experience with Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)
As an active recreational athlete I’ve suffered a few nagging injuries over the years. In my mid twenties I incurred a stress fracture in my foot during half marathon training that eventually turned into an arthritic joint. I stopped running under my doctor’s orders and dove deep into cycling. Although I eliminated running and jumping, I still experienced pain and inflammation that would flare on and off throughout the years.
Fast forward to my mid 30s. My naturopath specializes in regenerative medicine and suggested I try a course of Platelet Rich Plasma to try to heal the injury. He recommended stem cell therapy but said PRP would be worth trying as it’s less expensive ($600 for PRP vs $3,000 for stem cell therapy). Insurance doesn’t cover these types of injections so it’s all out of pocket.
Platelet Rich Plasma, or PRP, is derived from your body’s own plasma. A large sample of your own blood (mine was 12 vials) is drawn. Your platelets are then extracted from your blood using a centrifuge. Once the platelets are separated, they are then reinjected into the site of injury under ultrasound guided imaging.
The PRP is rich in bioproteins or growth factors, which can signal to your body to stimulate an accelerated healing process. According to John Hopkins Medicine, “Studies show that the increased concentration of growth factors in platelet-rich plasma may stimulate or speed up the healing process, shortening healing time for injuries, decreasing pain and even encouraging hair growth.”
Because I was at my wit’s end dealing with this pain for the last decade I was enthusiastic about trying it! I decided to start with one injection and see how well my body responded.
My doctor’s office drew my blood and I waited about 90 minutes for my blood to be spun in the centrifuge. My doctor then used a mild anesthetic injection to numb my foot for the series of injections of PRP. He used an ultrasound to inject directly into the joint and the surrounding ligaments and tendons that supported the structure of my foot. The experience was not pleasant but not painful. I would describe it as mildly uncomfortable.
I went on my merry way and was warned to not take anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, turmeric, or fish oil for the next week. PRP injections essentially simulate an injury response so that your body can call in the troops to heal the site. You want to let the inflammation do it’s job!
Typically most folks experience 2-3 days of swelling, pain, and inflammation. You can take acetaminophen to help with the pain or your doctor can provide a prescription for something more heavy duty.
I experienced MAJOR swelling and redness of my foot. In fact, after two weeks I still had significant pain and swelling. To be honest, I thought I had made a huge mistake and that the procedure didn’t work. My doctor explained that due to my autoimmune condition my body may have mounted a large response to the injury. I just needed to continue with my PT and be gentle with weight-bearing activities for the next month.
I continued physical therapy and slowly increasing my activity over the next few months. About six months later, my podiatrist decided to X ray the foot to see if the arthritis was still present. Surprise, it was completely gone! I was shocked. I had had this injury for a decade!
It’s been two years since my PRP experience and I would say that occasionally I do get a twinge or two of pain in that foot after a heavy week of weight lifting or activity. But it’s nothing compared to the pain I experienced for ten years! Success!
Some individuals may need several rounds of PRP injections to successfully treat an injury. I was lucky enough to get major healing with one but I am considering doing a second round in the next year. I do believe that those of us with chronic health conditions experience slower than average healing times due to our body’s low lying level of inflammation and other factors such as malnutrition or overall allostatic load.
I’m thankful for this experience and although it was a process (weeks on crutches, activity modification and patience!) it was worth it for me in the end.
So who does this type of procedure? I have mainly seen naturopathic physicians and orthopedic doctors provide this service as it’s largely related to joint or connective tissue injuries. However, PRP has gotten all the rage lately in the dermatology community for both skin and hair health as well. A good place to start is by asking your primary care physician or searching Platelet Rich Plasma near me.
Have you experienced PRP or other regenerative medicine therapies? What was your experience like?
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