As science continues to find ways to help the human body repair itself, an emerging therapy known as platelet rich plasma (PRP) treatment is helping doctors relieve stubborn disc-related back pain, according to Kaliq Chang, MD, of Atlantic Spine Center.
PRP treatments have actually been in clinical use for more than 25 years in a variety of medical fields, but doctors are learning more new ways to use the safe, natural therapy, which derives platelet cells directly from a patient’s own blood sample and injects those cells into soft tissues, speeding healing.
“The treatment is often used for joint pain in the knees, hips, elbows and shoulders, but we’re also now using PRP for pain originating in the soft discs between spinal vertebrae,” explains Dr. Chang, an interventional pain management specialist. “PRP stimulates the body’s healing process to work faster and better by using a patient’s own blood products to repair and regenerate damaged tissues.”
How platelet rich plasma treatments work
Blood plasma is the yellow liquid that holds red and white blood cells as well as platelets, which are well known for their clotting ability. But platelets also contain growth factors that naturally move toward damaged areas in the body. PRP therapy is able to send much higher concentrations of these same growth factors to body areas in need of healing, and do so much more quickly.
In addition to treating stubborn lower back pain related to disc problems – which often hasn’t responded to any other non-surgical treatment – PRP is also used for a variety of acute and chronic injuries, such as:
- Tennis/golf elbow
- Rotator cuff tears
- Knee conditions such as osteoarthritis and ligament tears
- Achilles tendinitis
- Plantar fasciitis (in the foot)
- Other ligament and muscle injuries
- Facial connective tissue
“Since we’re using a patient’s own plasma to treat certain spine and pain problems, there’s a much lower chance of side effects which is a huge advantage,” Dr. Chang says.
What to expect from platelet rich plasma procedure
The PRP is created by drawing a small sample of the patient’s blood and placing it in a centrifuge that spins out its separate components. Then the doctors will use ultrasound or x-ray technology to pinpoint the exact site of the patient’s pain to ensure the needle is placed in the optimal location. Finally the PRP is then injected into and around the point of injury.
Since the PRP therapy jump-starts the body’s own healing process, patients may initially experience mild pain, stiffness or swelling, which is temporary. The entire procedure takes 1 to 2 hours, and healing can take place over weeks or months. But PRP treatments can relieve stubborn back pain without the risks associated with more-invasive surgery, Dr. Chang says.
“Research, which is ongoing, has shown PRP therapy to be quite effective at relieving pain and helping patients return to their normal activities without discomfort,” he says. “We’re using it more and more because of its extensive benefits and minimal downsides.”
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