Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapies use platelets — taken from your own blood — to help heal injuries and treat chronic conditions. The properties of plasma are thought to speed up recovery, reduce pain, and more.
So if you went too hard at that one CrossFit class and messed up your shoulder, or you’re looking to switch up your skin care routine with a vampire facial, you may be interested in PRP.
These treatments aren’t yet approved by the FDA, but they’re cleared for “off-label” use. PRP is an evolving remedy in the area of regenerative medicine.
Assuming you’re not a phlebotomist or doctor, it may help to start at the beginning.
Platelet-rich plasma is a concentrate of just plasma and platelets, with all the other blood components removed. It’s like that frozen concentrated OJ — all the water has been sucked out, so you’re left with just the “orange” part with the pulp bits.
PRP is thought to have special qualities that shift your body’s healing processes into turbo gear. The high concentration of proteins causes your body to grow new, healthy cells. This process can make the injured tissue heal faster.
Depending on the condition it’s being used to treat, PRP has three main advantages:
- PRP is minimally invasive. Heck yeah, an injection is better than a hospital stay and surgery! PRP treatments are fairly quick, so they don’t muck up your busy schedule.
- PRP has few side effects or adverse reactions. Because PRP comes from your own blood, your body accepts it without the issues that may occur with drugs or other medical procedures. It’s the ultimate in natural medicine!
- PRP can be effective. Studies have shown that PRP therapy has the potential to help a variety of conditions, from hair loss to rotator cuff tears.
PRP therapy is done by injection. Your doctor will prepare a solution of PRP and inject it into the area needing treatment. It’s that simple.
PRP therapy isn’t FDA-approved, but it does have FDA clearance for “off-label” usage. It’s been around since the 1970s, and some doctors regularly recommend it for a variety of injuries and conditions. Many studies suggest PRP injections as a helpful part of care plans.
The results are in
The amount of time PRP takes to work varies for each person and condition.
You may notice effects from your treatment right away (maybe the pain in your injured joint is going away). But in some cases, it can take 6 months or longer to see noticeable results (like hair, tissue, or bone regrowth).
PRP therapies are really coming into their own. At first they were used for just one or two conditions, notably in sports medicine to treat elite athletes. Now they’ve found their way into everything from fertility treatments to low back pain management.
Sound intriguing? Sorry, this doesn’t mean Edward Cullen will wrap a hot towel around your face.
PRP, alone or combined with other treatments, is taking dermatology by storm. Research has suggested it can improve skin texture, color, and tone and reduce scars. Among other things, PRP might combat:
Plus, you may recover faster and get better dermie-work results if PRP is used.
The joints have it
PRP is an increasingly attractive treatment for orthopedic injuries and conditions. Some studies have suggested PRP can be more effective and safer than many other therapies such as saline, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and corticosteroids.
PRP therapy seems especially popular for knee complaints (high school soccer injuries, anyone?). It’s effective for both ongoing conditions (like tendinitis or arthritis) and traumatic injuries (like a torn meniscus). Some studies suggest PRP reduces pain for up to a year after treatment, but more substantial research is needed.
Soft tissue issues
PRP is gaining traction in the care of soft tissue damage. It’s thought that the various growth factors in the plasma accelerate wound healing, shorten recovery, and improve patients’ quality of life.
New research also suggests that PRP may help fat grafts be more successful, but clinical studies will be needed to truly understand the safety of this procedure. (FYI: Fat grafts are transfers of fat from one part of your body to another and are part of certain surgical procedures.)
Hair loss: No need to wig out?
As with many other uses, the use of PRP as a treatment for hair loss is still being studied.
PRP treatments are finding their way into our mouths these days. In some procedures, oral surgeons may use PRP to improve jawbone health and implant survival. In other procedures, PRP might boost gum regeneration or graft success.
The use of PRP in dentistry continues to be the subject of research.
What to expect and how a PRP therapy is done varies depending on what’s being treated.
Good to know:
Most PRP treatment protocols require multiple rounds of PRP — three to five injection cycles, in many cases. Because the effects of PRP therapy aren’t permanent, you may need to repeat the process periodically for chronic issues (like hair loss, ugh) if a doc recommends it.
You’ve made the decision to go with PRP. Now what?
Before your appointment, make sure your doctor knows about all medications and supplements you take. Certain meds, like aspirin and blood thinners, are of extra concern because PRP can impact clotting. You may need to adjust your medication regimen before PRP treatments.
Do you get woozy when you have blood drawn? If so, try to eat before your treatment (unless your doctor specifically says not to).
For some PRP treatments, your doctor may apply a numbing medication to your skin before administering the injection, so you may need to get to your appointment early. In other cases, a numbing agent may be mixed directly into the PRP solution.
If you’re getting a PRP treatment for hair loss, wash your hair on the day of your appointment, but skip the styling goo. Johns Hopkins recommends bringing a clean hat with you to wear post-procedure.
Keep in mind that these are all common practices, but you’ll need to follow your doctor’s specific pre-op instructions.
You’ll need(le) a shot
PRP is a completely personalized therapy because the star ingredient comes from you. To create the PRP injection, your doctor will do the following:
- Draw your blood. The procedure you’re having will dictate how much is taken. A hair loss treatment may require drawing 20 to 30 milliliters, while a knee treatment may require 15 to 50 milliliters.
- Spin your blood really fast in a machine called a centrifuge to separate the platelet-rich plasma from the rest of your blood.
- Prepare the PRP for injection. This step may include mixing the PRP with other things like medications. This is also the point at which the fluid is sucked into the syringe.
PRP treatments are often handled in the doctor’s office, including the steps to prep the injection for your procedure, in little as 30 minutes.
Once the PRP injection is good to go, your doctor injects it into the treatment area. The exact placement for the shot depends on the body part and specific condition you’re treating. For example:
- Knee and other joint treatments typically use ultrasound to pinpoint the precise entry and injection spots.
- For hair loss treatments, the PRP is administered to the balding or thinning areas of your scalp.
- In vampire facials, microneedles deliver the PRP through shallow pricks to the skin on your forehead, temples, cheeks, nose, upper lip, and chin.
Recovery and aftercare
A lot is going on in your body during the recovery phase of your treatment, so you’ll want to be extra kind to your body.
Acetaminophen can reduce your discomfort, and ice packs may help with swelling. But if you have severe pain, you should contact your doctor immediately.
In general, avoid smoking, consuming alcohol, taking any kind of blood-thinning drugs or supplements, and doing heavy exercise after your therapy for as long as your doctor recommends.
After scalp treatments, you should use gentle hair products and wait at least a week before doing any chemical processing like coloring. Aftercare for a vampire facial boils down to: Don’t touch your face with anything (your hands, makeup or other cosmetics, a pillowcase, etc.) or hang out in the sun.
PRP therapies are generally deemed safe. This isn’t to say there aren’t possible downsides, though. Because each person and each PRP preparation is unique, it can be a bit tricky to sum up risks and side effects.
With that in mind, take comfort in knowing that complications are rare. Among the most common are infection and allergic response to other components of the treatment (like anesthetics or fillers).
People sometimes get scarring or nerve or tissue damage at the injection site. The good news: Since PRP is derived from your own body, the risk of a negative reaction is low.
Even though PRP therapies are going mainstream, they’re still considered experimental and aren’t covered by insurance. Insurance companies demand loads of hard proof of safety and effectiveness before adding to their coverage — proof that just isn’t behind PRP yet.
So, how much will it cost? Let’s just say that PRP could stand for “pricey, really pricey.” Check out these ballpark estimates:
PRP is a product of your own blood. It’s a concentrated fluid full of proteins and other biological substances that can help certain injuries and health conditions heal better and more quickly.
Though it’s not yet FDA-approved or covered by most insurance, PRP is growing in popularity due to its effectiveness, ease of application, and minimal downtime.
New research is emerging on the reg, so stay tuned for updates on how PRP may help you.