Tennis Elbow is the scourge of many amateur and high level players. In the past, most athletes suffering this injury were forced to take time away from the court while the pain improved, or in more severe cases, surgery was required to repair the damaged tendon.
In recent years, a new treatment has been gaining popularity that uses the athlete’s own blood to heal injuries. These treatments, known as Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections, have been utilized across almost all major sports in today’s top athletes, including Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and Kobe Bryant.
How does PRP work?
The PRP process starts by taking a small draw of the athlete’s own blood and placing it into a centrifuge. The centrifugal process separates the blood so that the platelets are isolated and extracted. These platelets contain natural proteins that promote the body’s healing response. Once the platelets have been separated, they are injected directly into the injured area, which stimulates the body’s natural healing mechanisms. PRP is most often used in conjunction with physical therapy to maximize the healing and strengthening process.
Is PRP effective?
Recent research conducted by Dr. Taco Gosens at St. Elisabeth Hospital in Tilburg, Netherlands tested the effectiveness of PRP injection against the standard protocol of corticosteroid injection.
The goal was to see which treatment provided both the duration of pain relief, as well as their improvement in mobility. According to this study, “The researchers randomly assigned patients with chronic lateral epicondylitis—tennis elbow lasting longer than six months and pain ranking at least a five on a 10-point scale—to get either a PRP or corticosteroid injection.”
Both groups were given an injection using a technique where multiple areas of the tendon were injected directly. The results showed that, although the corticosteroid provided more immediate pain relief, those receiving PRP had longer lasting results of both pain relief and improvement in function.
Twenty-six weeks after treatment, patients who were injected with PRP had lasting pain relief and increased function. This trend continued for a full year after the treatments according to the research.
“PRP-treated patients reported a 64 percent improvement in pain and an 84 percent improvement in disability,” found the study. “Corticosteroid-treated patients reported a 24 percent improvement in pain and a 17 percent improvement in disability.”
Should I try a PRP injection?
Every athlete and their injuries are different. The effectiveness of a PRP injection is sometimes based on the extent of damage to the tendon or ligament, as well as where the injury has occurred. In any case, when pain or limited mobility is affecting one’s ability to be active, it is best to consult an orthopedic specialist. After examination and any necessary x-rays or MRIs, you can discuss with your orthopedic specialist if you are a candidate for PRP injections and how effective they may be for your particular injury.