What do golfer Tiger Woods, football player Hines Ward, tennis star Rafael Nadal have in common? All have received platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy for sports injuries.

Studies are inconclusive, but these major athletes and others swear that platelet-rich plasma therapy helps them recover faster and stronger. To learn more, we turned to Seth C. Gamradt, MD, and director of Orthopaedic Athletic Medicine and associate professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery, and James E. Tibone, MD, Moss professor of sports medicine, professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the USC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. Both work with USC athletes and other major sports teams like the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lakers, Kings and Rams.

Seth C. Gamradt, MD, James E. Tibone, MD

What is platelet-rich plasma therapy?

A patient’s blood is spun in a centrifuge to separate out the red and white cells. What is left is platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which is important in clotting blood, but also in healing injuries. These platelets, which have a five-to-ten times greater concentration than normal blood, are injected directly into the injured area. The platelets release growth factors which jumpstart the body’s effort to repair muscle, bone and other tissue. It is just one of the new biotechnology tools that aims to transform orthopaedic medicine.

Does PRP therapy work?

In about half the cases. The concentrated platelets speed up the healing process. For example, if you have tendinitis, your doctor can give you a couple of injections and the hope is that the inflammation will disappear within a couple weeks.

PRP therapy seems to promote healing but we need to learn more about how it works in different parts of the body. There are studies being conducted to help us better understand how to apply this type of biotechnology more effectively.

What injuries have the most success with PRP therapy?

Though the jury is still out on the effectiveness of PRP therapy, it is used to treat acute ligament and muscle injuries. It is also injected into injured tissue during surgery to accelerate healing. In some cases, the therapy is used for arthritis and fractures, again to speed the healing process.

Can a normal person like me who is not a professional athlete be treated with PRP therapy?

Yes. Doctor’s offices and training rooms have the equipment to separate a patient’s blood, so it is easy to provide all athletes with this type of therapy.

If you have an injury that will not heal and you have exhausted all other forms of traditional therapies, then you might be a good candidate for PRP therapy. Your orthopaedic surgeon can help you weigh the cost of the therapy against any benefit you might receive. At this time PRP treatment is not covered by insurance and the therapy can be expensive.

Our orthopaedic surgeons do not just treat collegiate and professional athletes. We treat everyone from high school athletes to weekend warriors to young adolescents just learning to play sports.

If you are in the Los Angeles are and are looking for exceptional care from some of the top orthopaedic physicians in the world be sure to schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://www.ortho.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/