Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu, two NFL stars on the Pittsburgh Steelers, used their own blood in an innovative injury treatment before winning the Super Bowl. Major league pitchers, professional soccer players and many other athletes have also undergone the procedure called platelet-rich plasma therapy. It’s not just for injuries to professional athletes. It can be used to treat tendinitis and similar ailments found in the general population.
The possibilities of platelet-rich plasma therapy are certainly apparent to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Polamalu, an All-Pro safety, had the procedure for a strained calf after a playoff game and, even the injury was not considered serious, he returned healthy enough the next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens to return an interception 40 yards for a touchdown.
The therapy played a bigger role with Ward, a wide receiver who left the Baltimore game with a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. The next day, he was injected with a form of PRP therapy called autologous conditioned plasma, which features different proportions of platelets and other cells. Along with rehabilitation and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, Ward recovered enough to make two catches in the Super Bowl, in which the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals.
“I was next in line, the next guinea pig,” Ward said, referring to Polamalu’s experience with platelet-rich plasma. “I think it really helped me. The injury that I had was a severe injury, maybe a four- or six-week injury. In order for me to go out there and play in two weeks, I don’t think anyone with a grade-2 M.C.L. sprain gets back that fast.”
Andre Johnson, one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, is currently using pletelet rich plasma therapy to help speed up his recovery from a high ankle sprain than can put many athletes out of action for multiple weeks. Instead of missing games, Johnson hopes that this therapy will allow him to stay on the field.
The method, which is easy to perform, is basically injecting the patient’s own blood directly into the injured area, which naturally causes the body to repair muscle, bone and other tissue. The technique also appears to help regenerate ligament and tendon fibers, which could shorten rehabilitation time and possibly make surgery unnecessary. The procedure is nonsurgical and uses the body’s own cells to help it heal. This could be a method to stimulate wound healing in areas that are not well-vascularized, like ligaments and tendons. The process is similar to autologous platelet gel, a gel made from a patient’s own blood cells, which heals wounds faster and more effectively than antibiotics.
There is little chance for rejection or allergic reaction because the substance is autologous, meaning it comes from the patient’s own body; the injection carries far less chance for infection than an incision and leaves noscar, and it takes only about 20 minutes, with a considerably shorter recovery time than after surgery.
Although more studies are necessary before the therapy can emerge as scientifically proven, researchers suspect that the procedure could become an increasingly attractive treatment for medical as well as financial reasons. The procedure costs about $2,000, compared with $10,000 to $15,000 for surgery. Doctors expect that with more refinement, insurance companies would eventually not only authorize the use of PRP therapy but even require it as a first course of treatment.
However, it must be noted that the company that provides this treatment is charging an enormous price for such a simple service. There are nearly identical services that can be performed at a cost of few cents for each therapy. So this simple solution turns out to be relatively expensive (in relation to cost) because the company that designed the separation media is seeking to make unreasonable and enormous profits from third-party insurance companies.
But most doctors said that if platelet-rich plasma was scientifically proven to be safe and effective, its largest effects would be on the amateur, weekend-warrior athletes for whom sports was recreation and healthy lifestyle. It’s not just the professional athlete who needs to get back to their game. Everyone wants to get back to what they do for play or for work.
The preceding information appeared in the New York Times on February 17, 2009, on page A1 of the New York edition.