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Expert Perspectives

Is Platelet-Rich Plasma Treatment Right for You?

By Medcan

From treating hair loss to tennis elbow, PRP has emerged as a promising regenerative therapy.

Aside from the fact that they’re all elite athletes, what do Tiger Woods, Rafael Nadal and Alex Rodriguez have in common? They’ve all received treatments involving PRP—platelet-rich plasma, a form of regenerative medicine said to use the body’s natural growth factors to repair and heal tissues.

First discovered in the field of hematology in the 1970s, platelet-rich blood was first developed as a therapy to correct low platelet counts in patients, then spread to such fields as dermatology and orthopaedics. Today, PRP is being used in orthopaedics to treat sports injuries, repetitive-use trauma and arthritis, as well as in plastic surgery. It’s also thought to help with hair loss and in the rejuvenation of skin.

What is PRP and how does it work?

To understand what PRP is, it’s useful to first understand the various components of human blood, which is comprised of both liquid and solid. The liquid—plasma—allows the solid—blood cells— to circulate throughout the body. There are three main types of blood cells: red blood cells, which distribute oxygen throughout the body; white blood cells, a key part of the immune system; and platelets, which help the blood to clot when exposed to air. It’s this last component, the platelets, that are so central to PRP therapy.

When undergoing the treatment, a vial of blood is drawn from the patient, then run through a centrifuge to separate the liquid into its individual components. The result is a layer of concentrated platelets in the plasma—the PRP. This mixture has been shown to contain growth factors and anti-inflammatory ingredients that can promote healing and relieve pain, at least for a limited amount of time. Once the PRP is reinjected into the site of the injury, its believed to stimulate and increase the number of reparative cells, enhancing the healing process. Since patients use their own blood for the treatment, side effects are minimal, meaning there’s no risk of rejection or negative reaction to the treatment.

PRP and Rehab

According to the World Health Organization, musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis and joint pain affect more than a billion people around the world and are the leading cause of disability worldwide. Joint replacement can help, but knowing that artificial joints have a limited lifespan, entail major surgery and can require lengthy rehab, many aging recreational athletes seek to put that off as long as possible. Consequently, some choose to treat ongoing pain with PRP therapy, which can relieve symptoms for six months to a year.

One study of patients with tendinopathy jumper’s knee, who were unable to find relief with other nonsurgical or surgical treatments, found that receiving three PRP injections at two-week intervals, combined with standard physical therapy, showed a statistically significant improvement of symptoms. In another study, seven out of nine patients with plantar fasciitis reported “complete pain relief” after one year of PRP treatment. PRP treatments can also be used to treat chronic tendon injuries, such as tennis and golfer’s elbow.

Studies also show that PRP can be a safe and effective option in treating low- to moderate-grade knee osteoarthritis. Patients who underwent PRP treatments showed improved joint function and less pain compared to those who received a placebo or hyaluronic acid. Younger patients with less severe symptoms tend to show an even greater response to PRP treatments.

“Over the last 10 years, PRP has gone mainstream, with lots of studies that show it can help manage symptoms of diseases like arthritis, tendonitis, golfer’s elbow and rotator cuff inflammation,” says Dr. Sebastian Rodgriguez-Elizalde, an orthopaedic surgeon at Medcan. “If you have a significant long-term degenerative condition, PRP will not cure you—but it can help you put off surgery for many years. And if you’re on a wait list, it may help relieve your pain until your turn arrives.”

PRP for Skin and Hair

PRP treatments are not limited to sports and repetitive-use injuries. Some of the most promising areas for PRP therapies include skin revitalization and the treatment of hair loss.

“In skincare, we see great results using PRP in combination with microneedling,”says Dr. Jonathan Levy, Medical Director at Refine. “It’s often referred to as a ‘vampire facial’.” The process involves microscopic needles that create tiny holes in the epidermis. Next, the PRP is spread over the skin like a mask. “Most clients see an increase in collagen production, improved skin texture and tone as well as more hydrated skin, so it’s great if you have fine lines, acne scarring or uneven skintone,”Dr. Levy says. PRP also represents an alternative to neuromodulators, like Botox, that can be used to reduce fine lines in the forehead, around the eyes or lips.

Dr. Levy also uses PRP as a therapy for androgenetic alopecia, the most common form of hair loss, also known as male- or female-pattern baldness. That affects 50% of Caucasians after the age of 40. “There’s no cure for androgenetic alopecia,” says Dr. Levy, “but recent studies have shown that PRP can help increase the thickness and density of hair.” Hair loss treatment is very similar to the vampire facial. Needles create holes in the scalp, then PRP is spread over the area. “We just invested in a PRP gun,” says Dr. Levy, “which will make the process more comfortable, and quicker.”

While PRP remains a relatively new treatment, early results have been promising. Low risk and minimal downtime have made it an ideal treatment for many seeking reduced pain, improved smooth tone or boosted hair density. As PRP product technologies continue to develop both here in Canada and around the world, those seeking relief from other medical treatments, sports and age-related injuries and degenerations may find it to be the right¬ treatment for them.

Seeking more information on whether PRP might be right for you? For sport-related injuries reach out to our Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation team. For more information on skin rejuvenation and hair loss, contact Refine.

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