Platelet-rich plasma therapy seen as helping chronic pain

By Dr. Mark Wheaton of Lakeside Sports and Pain Clinic  ·  Feb 23, 2021

There is a line in an old hymn that goes, “There’s wonderful power in the blood,” referring to the saving blood of Jesus.

This, of course, is a spiritual reference to the saving work of Jesus when He died on the cross to save the souls of men. It is the promise of eternal life to all who believe in His death as payment for sins. That is the Gospel message: There is supernatural power in the blood.

There is also a natural power in the blood for people who suffer from chronic injuries and pain. It is found in the natural healing method called platelet-rich plasma or PRP. But it is one’s own blood that contains the power to heal.

Platelets are specialized blood cells made in the bone marrow that, along with red blood cells and white blood cells, circulate throughout the bloodstream. Platelets naturally contain many types of growth factors—some researchers say up to 100 different ones—that are sent out to heal and repair tissue damage and injury throughout the body. We witness the work of platelets when we see how a skin wound or cut stops bleeding and eventually heals itself over time. The same thing occurs when joint tissues are injured. Platelets naturally infiltrate the injury site initially and with the attraction of tissue-rebuilding cells called fibroblasts, the injury and pain are finally gone. Unfortunately, many injuries do not heal completely on their own so that, in time, chronic joint pain, instability, and arthritis occur.

In recent years, PRP was developed as a way to deliver concentrated platelets to the source of pain to permanently heal joint structures, eliminate pain, and restore function. Joints are made up of bone, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. Injuries to these tissues result in chronic sprains and strains of ligaments, muscles, and tendons of the joints of the arm and leg, such as occurs with rotator cuff tears (shoulder), tennis elbow, foot and ankle conditions, meniscal tears (knee), and loss of cartilage, which is commonly known as arthritis. Chronic pain and instability in the neck and back, often associated with headaches, pinched nerves, and disc problems, can be debilitating and not helped by standard treatments.

There is also a natural power in the blood for people who suffer from chronic injuries and pain. It is found in the natural healing method called platelet-rich plasma or PRP.

For many decades, if these problems did not improve with standard conservative therapies or relieved with drugs known as anti-inflammatories, cortisone shots were the next step before resorting to arthroscopic surgery or total joint replacement. Because of the damaging effects of cortisone on joint tissues and the destructive nature of surgery to joints, however, an effective, natural approach was needed. And now, PRP, as well as prolotherapy, has filled that need.

Many years ago, surgeons discovered that putting platelets into the surgery site before finishing the operation seemed to assist healing and recovery. Arthroscopic surgery was developed to minimize scar tissue formed from surgery, and bone drilling then was utilized to cause bleeding to stimulate healing. It was not long before researchers theorized that the platelets in the blood had the potential to help patients avoid surgery that they assumed they needed. Thus, the method of PRP administered by injection has come to the forefront as the choice of many doctors and patients to heal injuries and joint tissues, avoiding cortisone injections and surgery.

The natural injection method of prolotherapy has for many decades utilized natural substances in solution to stimulate and successfully repair injured tissues. One may think of PRP as just prolotherapy using one’s own blood since they both have the same goal: regenerating tissues to heal injuries and eliminate chronic pain naturally. Prolotherapy regenerates the healing with solutions and PRP regenerates healing with blood. The release of stem cells is thought to be the mechanism for healing with these methods.

The process for a PRP treatment is quite straightforward.

For example, you may have chronic knee pain. After a thorough evaluation to determine the source of pain, blood is drawn from your arm and spun down. The platelet portion is injected into the damaged and/or painful knee joint. All that is needed is a kit for the blood collection and a centrifuge that spins the blood at a high speed in under 15 minutes. The blood stays in a sealed container and, when the spinning time is over, it has automatically been separated into a compartment specifically for the platelets. Since it is your own blood being used to treat the injury, there is no chance of a cross-reaction as theoretically may occur with the use of another person’s blood.

It is vitally important that a patient goes to a medical doctor trained in both the proper diagnosis of appropriate PRP cases and the skill to place the injection in the correct location. A well-trained physician with an independent practice in the musculoskeletal field and with years of clinical experience in prolotherapy and PRP injections is vital if the best outcome is desired. In the good hands of a skilled prolotherapy and PRP physician, the injection takes about one minute in the clinic, is well-tolerated, and requires no sedation. The patient will be on his or her way home in minutes.

There will likely be some joint soreness for a day or two, but this varies with the patient and the body part that is treated. The soreness is expected and desired, indicating the wound-healing process has begun. Like prolotherapy, there is little downtime. Previous levels of activity can be resumed as tolerated. Simple heat or a dose or two of acetaminophen may be used for a day or so if desired. Prolotherapy can even be performed along with PRP to give a more pronounced effect, with the prolotherapy having a broader effect on stability and the PRP targeting a specific structure that is damaged.

It may seem overly simplistic to say that PRP can treat any joint problem from head to toe, but, when treating any appropriate joint condition or pain involving muscle, tendon, ligament, or cartilage, PRP and/or prolotherapy has the potential to permanently repair the damage, stabilize the joint, eliminate the pain, and improve one’s daily activities.

Not all patients will get exceptional results and certain cases may still need to have surgery. But most patients treated with prolotherapy, PRP, and stem cells are pleased to find that they have improved their function, reduced their pain, and avoided potentially harmful effects of drugs, cortisone shots, and surgery.

It usually takes regular, monthly treatments for results. For some patients it may only take four to six treatments to get a good to excellent result, but, for patients with more chronic problems, it may take more than six treatments to get a satisfactory outcome. Health insurance does not cover these natural injection techniques, but, since they have the freedom to choose their own providers, Samaritan Ministries members typically are able to have the cost of the treatments shared. The results are long-lasting and natural and can save thousands of dollars by avoiding the mainstream health care system, which utilizes drugs, physical therapy modalities, surgery, and other costly treatments.

The advent of these exciting and developing regenerative healing techniques has come at an opportune time, as health care costs have skyrocketed. Patients, now more than ever, are searching for effective alternatives that will not only give long-lasting benefits but will promote natural healing as well. By keeping the original tissues that a patient has but making them stronger and better over time, joints are preserved for an active, pain-free life. Future advancements will come with more research, but with the safe and effective track record of both PRP and prolotherapy there is no need to wait when results are so good already.

The information provided in this article is for educational purposes and is not meant as medical advice.

Samaritan Ministries member Dr. Mark Wheaton lives in the Deephaven, Minnesota, area. If you have more questions about either PRP or prolotherapy, or if you are wondering whether you might be a good candidate for these procedures, call (952) 593-0500, visit DrMarkWheaton.com, or send email to info@drmarkwheaton.com.