Spinning Blood Isn't Just for Athletes

Wall Street Journal—March 30, 2010

Seattle Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee used it for an abdominal strain. Denver Nuggets power forward Kenyon Martin used it on a strained left knee. Last year, Tiger Woods had injections of it in his left knee before four majors and Pittsburgh Steelers Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward used it to treat a strained calf and a sprained knee ligament before the team's Super Bowl win.

The treatment, known as platelet-rich plasma, or PRP, is one of a growing number of therapies that enhance the body's ability to heal itself. A physician extracts about one to two ounces of blood from the patient's vein and spins it in a centrifuge to separate out the platelets, the part of the blood that secretes growth factors to promote clotting and healing. The doctor injects that platelet-rich plasma back into the patient at the site of injury, where it spurs the repair of injured tissue. Most patients experience relief within several weeks.

Studies presented this month at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons found that PRP was effective at treating chronic tennis elbow, severe Achilles tendonitis and osteoarthritis of the knee. Word is spreading about the treatment — PRP allowed Janie Frieman, a patient at Hospital for Special Surgery, to return to playing tennis several times a week in Scarsdale, N.Y., after tearing a tendon in her forearm.

Some doctors believe that patients should try other, conservative approaches before PRP, since many injuries heal on their own.

"I would not start out using PRP—unless you've tried other treatments such as anti-inflammatories or physical therapy," says Brian Halpern, M.D., a specialist in non-surgical sports medicine at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City who says he has used it in patients for two years with excellent results.

Patients do need to rest for a few days or weeks after the treatment to not push the injected tissue too quickly. "I follow patients at one week, four weeks, eight weeks and six months," says Dr. Halpern. But there have been very few reports of problems. "The great thing about PRP is that you are using your own tissue. People do not have adverse reactions to their own tissue," says Dr. Halpern.

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