Among the wide array of treatments available for chronic back pain, one is emerging that is distinct because it uses your body’s own cells to help you heal. It is called PRP, or platelet-rich plasma.
With two decades of research largely supporting PRP’s benefits for conditions such as shoulder and knee pain, growing evidence suggests the minimally invasive treatment can also safely improve highly common lower back pain, says Kaliq Chang, MD, of Atlantic Spine Center.
PRP Platelet-rich plasma treatment involves taking a small sample of your blood and placing it in a machine called a centrifuge, which separates blood components. The plasma, or liquid, part of your blood is then placed in a syringe and injected into the painful area of your back while a special x-ray helps pinpoint where it’s needed most, Dr. Chang explains.
Within weeks, PRP treatment often results in significantly less back pain and a greater ability to perform everyday activities, he says.
“More and more patients with lingering low back pain are inquiring about PRP to help rid them of the problem,” adds Dr. Chang, an interventional pain management specialist. “While additional data is still needed, it’s great to be able to tell them that PRP is becoming yet another sturdy tool in our arsenal of treatments to help beat back pain.”
How does PRP work?
Blood contains many substances that help promote the body’s healing process, and PRP treatment was developed on this premise, Dr. Chang says. As the so-called “building blocks” of blood, platelets – which also help form scabs on abrasions, for example – contain chemicals known as growth factors that support healing.
Also, in platelets are proteins that trigger stem cells which can change into any type of cell to move toward an injured area. Growth factors and proteins work together to repair damaged tissue and make new, healthy tissue, Dr. Chang explains.
“While our bodies normally carry out wound healing naturally, PRP injections concentrate those restorative cells at just the place we need them and in larger amounts,” he says. “In the lower back, this means damaged areas around the spine receive a much-needed boost to speed healing.”
Back conditions PRP can help
PRP is not ideal for all types of low back pain, but your doctor, after a thorough exam and workup, may decide it’s a worthy option.
What types of back problems can PRP treatment benefit? Pain caused by:
- Degenerative disc disease, which are worn-down vertebral discs
- Muscle strains
- Damaged ligaments and tendons
- Muscle fibrosis
Two or three PRP treatments spaced over several months are optimal and seem to improve pain and function in the lower back more than a single treatment, Dr. Chang notes.
After an injection, you can expect to have some mild soreness near the injection site that lasts for a few days. Since PRP works by stimulating your natural healing response, it generally takes a few weeks before you start seeing the benefits. Because PRP is derived from your own blood, you cannot reject the cells – a clear advantage, Dr. Chang says.
PRP treatments may also be combined with other approaches, such as physical therapy, to maximize the feel-good effects.
“Mounting research suggests PRP is a safe, fast and powerful way to help facilitate healing in a hardworking area of our body – the lower back,” Dr. Chang says. “We’re happy to have a new and exciting way to help patients get back to their everyday activities with less pain and more joy.”