Dr. FAQ: Martin Leland on Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy

The latest in our video series where experts from the University of Chicago Medical Center answer frequently asked questions about popular medical topics. To suggest a topic or a question, please contact the editors.

If you’re a frequent reader of the sports pages, you probably have a pretty good familiarity with the terminology of sports medicine. Concepts like ACL tears, plantar fasciitis, Tommy John surgery and arthroscopic surgery are all frequent mentions of the injury report, lending sports fans at least a surface-level grasp of the common injuries and procedures. One treatment that has recently received a boost of mentions amid the box scores and locker room interviews is platelet-rich plasma therapy – PRP therapy for short.

Many first heard about PRP therapy in early 2009 after Pittsburgh Steelers stars Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu praised the procedure for helping them recover from injuries in time for their Super Bowl XLIII victory. Recently, a second uptick of attention has resulted, somewhat infamously, from news reports about the doctor that helped treat Tiger Woods’ knee injury in 2008 – Anthony Galea, a Canadian specialist under investigation for administering performance-enhancing drugs. But lest PRP therapy (a safe, legal treatment) be confused with the more unsavory treatments that also show up in those articles, I went to J. Martin Leland, an assistant professor of surgery in the orthopaedic sports medicine group at the University of Chicago Medical Center, to learn the facts.

Leland told me that the idea behind PRP therapy – using a patient’s own blood to assist the healing process – has been around for decades, but has gained momentum among sports medicine professionals over the past couple years. The procedure is easy (able to be completed in one doctor’s visit), safe, and relatively cheap (though not covered by most insurance plans). But Leland cautioned that PRP therapy is not a magic solution for all sports injury woes, and that much more clinical research must be done to determine just how effective the treatment is in combination with more established surgical procedures. Those topics, and more, are discussed in the videos below.

Update: On January 13, the day after we posted these videos, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no significant effect of PRP therapy upon pain and activity in patients with chronic achilles tendinopathy. Dr. Leland commented:

A Dutch study published in the Jan. 13, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that an injection of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) performed no better than saline for chronic Achilles tendinopathy patients who were treated with eccentric exercises. This is an important study because it is one of the first of its kind regarding the effectiveness of PRP when used for the treatment of different issues in humans. However, this is only one of the first studies to come out and rash decisions should not be made based upon its findings alone. I feel that physicians and patients should remain “cautiously optimistic” regarding the use of PRP. Over time, more and more studies will be published regarding the effectiveness of PRP. This study is a perfect example that PRP is not the solution to every problem. However, this is only one study on one specific disorder in the human body. Much more research is needed to determine if this study can be reproduced in other studies as well as what the effectiveness is of PRP on other parts of the body. In my opinion, the risks of PRP use are low and the benefits, in certain situations, may warrant its use. However, only research in the future will be able to specifically determine when and where PRP is specifically effective.

More information on the JAMA finding is available here.

About Rob Mitchum (525 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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