When it comes to medical treatments, a lot of patients are only interested in the bottom line. But is it actually going to work, doc?
And hey, that’s fine. You might not know how your car works, or how the elevator at your office building works either; you’re just happy they get you where you need to go with a minimum amount of fuss (Chicago traffic notwithstanding).
But others want a little more detail—especially when it comes medical treatments that affect how their bodies work and behave. And if you happen to be someone looking for a little more information before making a decision, we are more than happy to answer any and all of your questions!
One treatment we get a lot of questions about is platelet-rich plasma therapy, or PRP. So, we thought we’d take a little time explaining how and why it works in a little more depth.
The Power of Platelets
The first step to explaining platelet-rich plasma is to explain platelets.
Platelets are sometimes called a type of blood cell, but they’re really more like fragments of cells. They have no cell nucleus, and they look like small, flat discs. They are much smaller than red or white blood cells, and make up only a tiny fraction of your blood volume (just a fraction of 1 percent).
The primary role of platelets is clotting to stop bleeding, also called hemostasis. When a blood vessel is broken, platelets stick to the vessel walls and to each other, changing their shape and creating a “mesh” that plugs the hole. This is why, when you apply a bit of pressure and a couple of minutes of time, small cuts stop bleeding with relatively minimal loss of blood. It’s your platelets at work.
However, there are some other interesting properties of platelets, too. For example, they also have a central role to play in healthy immune system function, as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
Platelets are also packed with chemicals and proteins that are especially useful for the body’s natural wound healing and tissue regeneration processes. This includes at least half a dozen growth factor proteins responsible for triggering wound healing, three proteins critical for cell adherence, and around three dozen additional bioactive proteins responsible for tissue healing in various ways.
Getting the Proteins Where They’re Needed
As you can see, platelets can be an extremely useful source of fuel for your body’s tissue repair “engine.” But there’s a problem.
Not all body parts and tissues have equal access to blood flow. In particular, tendons, ligaments, and fascia around your heels and your joints really don’t get a whole lot of local blood flow in comparison with other tissues and organs.
That means when you suffer an injury in these connective tissues, your body has a much harder time supplying them with the nutrients they need to fight off the inflammation and repair the damage. That’s one big reason why chronic pain is so common in areas such as the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.
Platelet-rich plasma therapy, then, is an ingenious solution to this problem. The treatment, essentially, boils down to this:
- Collect a sample of your blood.
- Concentrate that sample so that it has a high concentration (“rich,” you might say) of platelets.
- Inject it directly into the damaged tissue so the bioactive proteins and growth factors contained within those platelets do what they are meant to do.
How PRP is Prepared and Administered
So how do we do it?
The first step, as we said, is taking a sample of your blood. There’s a little prep involved, but it’s generally a quick and easy procedure. If you’ve ever given blood before, you know what you’re in for.
Then, we take that sample of blood and place it in a special centrifuge, which is a device that rotates extremely rapidly. The main purpose of a centrifuge, generally speaking, is to take a fluid mixture and separate out the individual components, which works when the components have sufficiently different densities.
When this process is applied to blood, we can separate it into three groups: liquid plasma, red blood cells, and “buffy coat” mixture that includes the white blood cells and platelets.
Now that we have your blood sample separated out, we can recombine it in any way we want to create different mixtures.
For PRP therapy, the red blood cells (which normally make up more than 40 percent of blood volume) are removed from the equation entirely. The white blood cells and platelets from the sample are recombined with some (not all) of the plasma—in other words, platelet-rich plasma. It’s still your blood—or at least part of it—but now it has a much denser concentration of those platelets and proteins your injured tissues so desperately need.
Finally, the platelet-rich plasma is injected back into your body at the site of the injured tissue. This triggers a number of critical tissue regeneration processes, including removal of damaged cells and propagation of healthy cells to take their place.
To be clear—the results aren’t going to be instantaneous. The body will still take time to heal, and you will still need to follow up with other components of your overall treatment and rehabilitation plan.
However, PRP injections can and quite often do significantly reduce the overall recovery time from an injury and get you back to your favorite activities faster, due to the accelerated tissue healing it helps power. Furthermore, if you’ve been suffering from chronic pain for months or even years, PRP might be the kick your body needs to finally get “over the hump” on subduing the inflammation and healing the tissue.
And because it’s drawn from your own blood, PRP injections are highly safe with almost no major side effects.
If you’re suffering from a painful injury or chronic discomfort in your feet or ankles—especially if nothing you’ve previously tried seems to be working—give us a call. PRP therapy may be exactly what you need, and we can help you determine whether that’s the case, or whether there’s another treatment option that might serve you better.
To request an appointment, dial (847) 465-9311 or fill out our convenient online contact form today.
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Wheeling, IL 60090
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