Alternative to steroid injections can provide long-term pain relief
HOUSTON, Texas — For those seeking relief from chronic pain due to tendonitis, plantar fasciitis or tennis elbow, platelet-rich plasma injections may be a treatment option, according to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM).
“A platelet-rich plasma injection is an injection of the concentrated product of a patient’s own platelets designed to move growth factors into a chronic musculoskeletal problem to tell your body to heal the structure,” said Dr. John Harrell, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at BCM.
When people develop problems such as tendonitis or tennis elbow, the body is not healing the day-to-day deterioration in those areas. In this injection, a physician will draw a patient’s blood, put it in a centrifuge and spin it down to concentrate the platelets. They will then take that platelet concentrate and, guided by an ultrasound, inject it into the problem area. The platelets move into that area and release growth factors.
“It’s like telling your body, ‘heal this structure,’” said Harrell. “You’re giving your healing process a command. After this injection, white blood cells that are involved in healing and the new cells that lay down tissue migrate to that area and we see healing over the next several months.”
While steroid injections may only resolve the problem for a month or two, this procedure is reversing the process that is going on in the body, resulting in lasting relief. Young, healthy adults are not likely to need to repeat the procedure, but older patients may need a booster down the line.
Studies show that early on, steroid injections seem to provide more relief. At about three months, the relief from the two types of injections is equal. By six months, the platelet-rich plasma injection is much more effective in relieving pain than the steroid injection. At this time, patients with the steroid injection were back at their baseline level of pain.
The outpatient procedure lasts about 30 to 45 minutes. The procedure can be used to treat a chronic problem that has been already treated with other methods with no relief. Examples of the most common problems that this treatment can be used for include tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis, jumper’s knee, tendonitis, partial rotator cuff tears and rotator cuff tendonitis.
The procedure first requires an evaluation through ultrasound to look at the treatment area, and recovery time is about two weeks. Physical therapy is usually recommended after the two-week recovery period.