PRP injections are performed as an outpatient procedure. Because the patient’s blood must be drawn and prepared for injection, a typical procedure may take anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes.
Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections Require Precision
An experienced physician should perform the injections. The use of imaging technology, such as ultrasound, may be used to ensure a safe and precise placement of the injection into the damaged tendon.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends patients avoid or discontinue certain medications prior to injection:
- Avoid corticosteroid medications for 2 to 3 weeks prior to the procedure
- Stop taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin (low dose, 81mg, aspirin may be permissible), or arthritis medications such as Celebrex, a week prior to the procedure
- Do not take anticoagulation medication for 5 days before the procedure (done only under doctor supervision)
In addition, patients are advised to drink plenty of fluids the day before the procedure. Some patients may require anti-anxiety medication immediately before the procedure.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons does not advocate for or against platelet-rich plasma treatment.1
Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections, Step-by-Step
This is an in-office procedure that involves a blood draw, preparation of the PRP, and the injection:
- Blood is drawn from a vein in the patient’s arm into a syringe (15 to 60mL, or 0.5 to 2 ounces, or more may be needed).
- The blood is processed using a centrifuge machine.
- A doctor or technician prepares the centrifuged platelet-rich plasma for injection.
- The affected joint area is cleansed with disinfectant such as alcohol or iodine.
- A lidocaine injection and/or another local anesthetic may be used to numb the injection site. However, some experts believe that anesthetics decrease the effectiveness of PRP.2
- If ultrasound is being used, a special gel will be applied to an area of skin near the injection site. An ultrasound probe will be pressed against the gel-covered skin. A live image of the tendon will be projected onscreen for the doctor to see.
- The patient is asked to relax; this will facilitate the injection and also can make the injection less painful.
- Using a syringe and needle, the doctor injects a small amount (often just 3 to 6 mL3) of platelet-rich plasma into the affected tendon.
- The injection area is cleansed and bandaged.
The platelet-rich plasma typically stimulates a series of biological responses, including inflammation, so the injection site may be swollen and painful for about 3 to 5 days.
After the PRP Injection: Immediate Follow-up Care
Platelet rich plasma injections may cause temporary inflammation, pain, and swelling. Patients are often advised to take it easy for a few days and avoid putting strain on the affected joint.
A doctor may recommend that a patient:
- Avoid anti-inflammatory pain medication; the doctor may prescribe or recommend another pain medication.
- Use crutches, wear a brace, and/or wear or sling to protect and immobilize the affected joint.
- Apply a cold compress a few times a day for 10 to 20 minutes at a time to help decrease post-injection pain and swelling. (Some doctors may recommend a warm compress instead.)
If the patient does not have a physically demanding job, he or she can usually go back to work the next day. Patients can usually resume normal activities a few days after the injections, when swelling and pain decrease. Patients should not begin taking anti-inflammatory medications until approved by the doctor.
The patient will likely be prescribed post-injection physical therapy. A licensed physical therapist can teach the patient exercises that build and maintain joint strength and flexibility.