How Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) is used for back and neck pain

Plasma is the clear portion of the blood in which all the other blood components – platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells – travel. Each blood component has a different job.

  • Red Blood Cells – responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body
  • White Blood Cells – part of the immune system that recognizes and fights bacteria and viruses 
  • Platelets – responsible of clotting the blood when you have an injury

Platelets have the ability to recognize damaged blood vessels. When you have a cut, platelets are drawn to the injured area where they begin to stick together to form a plug to stop the bleeding. As these platelets group together, they begin to change their shape from a disc to a spiny octopus like structure, entangling more and more platelets. These platelets, along with other proteins released within the body create a hard scab which completely stops the bleeding and protects the injury while it heals. A similar process occurs inside the body when you have a broken bone or injury that bleeds internally.

These platelets contain natural growth hormones and proteins that tell your tissues to increase rebuilding to enhance your recovery and help stop pain symptoms.

Platelet rich plasma, commonly referred to as PRP, is the patient’s own human blood that is spun down in a centrifuge and separated producing a concentration of platelets above the natural values commonly found in their blood. Platelet rich plasma can have as much as eight times more than the normal amount of platelets. This concentration of platelets from the patient’s own blood is then collected and injected back into the person at the site of injury.

The goal of PRP therapy is to enhance the body’s natural ability to repair itself to speed healing and shorten recovery time from muscle, ligament, tendon and joint injuries. PRP can be especially helpful for long-standing chronic injuries that have taken a long time to heal. Injecting concentrated platelets at the site of injury can accelerate the body’s own healing response.

PRP has been used in a variety of fields over the years, including plastic surgery, sports medicine and dermatology. Some prominent professional athletes have received PRP, including golfing great Tiger Woods and tennis champion Rafael Nadal.

There are some conflicting studies about the value of PRP, and which type of centrifuges may produce the optimal plasma. No studies to date have documented any adverse effects associated with PRP. So in that sense, there is no downside to the therapy. Because the injected platelets are produced from a person’s own body, there typically is no issue related to rejection or transmitting disease.

How is PRP therapy provided?

A person undergoes PRP therapy in the physician’s office. The patient is instructed to stop all anti-inflammatory medication or steroids at least one week beforehand as these medications negatively affect platelets.

A small amount of blood (two tablespoons) are drawn from the patient’s arm. This blood sample is then placed into a centrifuge which spins the blood down so the heavier parts sinks to the bottom. Platelets and white blood cells spin out above this bottom layer and these concentrated platelets are collected and used for the injection.

PRP typically only requires local numbing medication at the injection site. No general anesthesia or sedation is required.

When to expect relief of symptoms?

PRP does not provide instantaneous relief from symptoms. Growing new tissue and healing injured joints can take one to three months. But for those people who have seen their healing process stall, PRP can jumpstart the body’s own healing process.

There is great variability in the success of PRP based on the experience of the physician specializing in PRP, the type of centrifuge used, and selection of the ideal patient who can benefit from PRP.

Spine Physicians Institute treats back pain, neck pain, herniated discs, stenosis and other spine problems. Patients come to the spine center from across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Dr. Sethuraman is one of few Mayo Clinic fellowship-trained spine surgeons in the North Texas area. A fellowship is the highest level of medical education in the U.S.

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