PRP therapy is not covered by most medical insurers. However, experts and physician groups are beginning to acknowledge PRP therapy’s potential to treat chronic tendinopathy. For example, the American Academy for Orthopaedic Surgeons describes the growing body of research as promising.1
Below are two examples of clinical studies examining PRP therapy.
- In one of the largest studies2 examining PRP, 230 patients with painful tennis elbow (lateral epicondylar tendinopathy) were treated with either a PRP injections or traditional treatments. After 24 weeks, nearly 84 percent of patients who received the PRP injections reported a 25 percent or greater reduction in pain, while 68.3 percent of the control group (p = 0.037) reported similar results.
- In another study, 99 tendons diagnosed with chronic tendinopathies were treated with PRP or autologous blood injections.3 Chronic tendinopathies included but were not limited to tennis elbow, jumper’s knee (patellar tendinosis), high hamstring tendinosis, Achilles tendinosis, and plantar fasciitis. Study patients had experienced symptoms for an average of 3 years before PRP therapy. Following therapy, the majority of patients reported some pain relief, and half the patients who received a leukocyte-poor PRP therapy reported to be mostly or all improved.
These studies demonstrate that—like other treatments for chronic tendon injuries—PRP does not offer a 100 percent reduction in pain for all patients. Rather, PRP therapy can be used as part of a larger treatment plan to reduce pain and improve function.
Less certain is whether or not platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are an effective treatment for other musculoskeletal problems, such as ligament injuries and osteoarthritis. While experts are hopeful and research is promising, more work needs to be done in this particular area.
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PRP Does Not Work for Everyone
It is important to note that not all clinical studies provide support for using PRP.4 Some research suggests PRP injections work no better than a placebo treatment.5-8 Even in studies that do provide evidence that PRP works, not all patients benefit. And while many studies show PRP therapy is low risk, at least one study reports that patients’ symptoms worsened following PRP treatment.9
It may be that PRP therapy, like other treatments for damaged tendons, works for some people but not for others, or works best in conjunction with other treatments, such as physical therapy.
PRP as Part of a Comprehensive Treatment Plan
Most doctors do not consider PRP injections a stand-alone treatment. Instead, the injections are one element in a multi-faceted rehabilitation treatment plan that may include:
- Rest from painful activities
- Strengthening, especially eccentric exercises
- Cold or heat therapy (applying cold-packs or hot-packs)
- Anti-inflammatory medication , though patients are advised to use these medications judiciously, because they can be detrimental to the production of collagen, an essential component of tendon tissue.
- Electrical muscle stimulation (also known as EMS or Electromyostimulation)
General guidelines for rehabilitation after PRP treatment exist,10 and may vary depending on the condition. Usually, these treatments are performed under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist or licensed athletic trainer.