PRP–Miracle Cure or Expensive Hoax?

The latest, greatest fix, the Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection. Tiger did it. The athletes are talking about it…and I’ve just done my second round of it.

…but does it work?

It goes like this: you tear a tendon, strain a ligament, shred yourself somehow and before you resort to surgery, there’s PRP. Docs or lab techs draw your blood (60cc in my case), centrifuge it, and voila–your blood separates into liquidy plasma; goopy hemoglobin; and a thin layer of cells in the middle filled with growth factors, white blood cells, and platelets. This layer is drawn out (8cc for my first PRP; 2cc my second), then it’s injected into the site of your injury.

The growth-inspiring cells go to work, provoking your body’s own healing and inflammatory response. For this reason, my elbow hurt about 20 times more than it did when I injured it in August of ’09, while rock climbing. After the PRP, over the course of a few days, the site relaxes a bit and little by little, you can return to mellow activity, followed by more vigorous PT, and (the idea goes) world domination in a matter of months.

PRP won’t fix a torn ACL, but for certain injuries–like my torn tendon in my left elbow–it’s supposed to be the latest, great thing.

The tally thus far hasn’t been promising: I paid $1000 out of pocket last October for a PRP at the hallowed Steadman-Hawkins clinic in Vail. My health insurance laughed at covering it and I didn’t fight with ’em. Bastards. The PRP didn’t seem to help much at all, though I remained pretty active throughout the “healing” phase–this might’ve prevented the PRP from taking. Who knows?

This second round I did at Boulder Community Hospital. It’ll cost a bit less and they performed a “guided” PRP; that is, they watched the injection on ultrasound, ensuring the cells were introduced exactly into the torn sections of my tendon.

Stay tuned…for now I can’t bend the left elbow, but it’s starting to loosen up. We’ll see.

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