Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections for Joint Preservation

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Blood is made up of many different components, including several kinds of cells and proteins. One important component of blood is platelets, which promote healing of wounds and injuries. Concentrated injections of platelets, when injected into damaged joints, can help promote healing, prevent further damage, and even reduce or eliminate the need for surgical joint repair or replacement.

How do Platelets Promote Healing?

Platelets are the smallest cells in the blood, and constantly circulate in the bloodstream until they're needed. When the body sustains an injury, such as a cut, the damaged tissue sends out chemical signals that tell platelets and other cells where the injury is located. In response to these chemical signals, platelets travel via the bloodstream to the site of the injury. Once there they become activated, changing their shape and binding to the edges of broken blood vessels. This is how a clot forms, as the binding of the platelets is one thing that helps to stop bleeding.

Another way platelets promote healing is by releasing proteins called growth factors at sites where tissue has been damaged. These proteins do various things that help to heal wounded tissue; for instance, some growth factors activate other kinds of cells involved in healing, such as stem cells.

How Platelet-Rich Plasma Works to Preserve Joints

Platelet-rich plasma injections promote healing of damaged joints, and work to preserve joint tissue, in a similar fashion. However, because the injections contain a much higher concentration of platelets than normal untreated blood, the healing effect is more intense and more effective than usual.

Everyone reacts differently to platelet-rich plasma treatments, but most people do benefit from reduced joint pain and stiffness. The platelet treatments help stimulate healing of the damaged joint tissue, which in turn helps to prevent irreversible degenerative damage and preserve joint structure and function. If a joint disease or injury is treated effectively with platelet-rich plasma injections, it's even possible to reduce or eliminate the need for surgery.

What's Involved in Platelet-Rich Plasma Treatment for Joint Preservation?

Platelet-rich plasma is made from a patient's own blood. To make platelet-rich plasma a blood sample is drawn from a patient. The blood is then treated to separate out the platelets from the other components in the blood, and then mixed with a small amount of the patient's whole blood. This process results in a preparation that contains a much higher concentration of platelets than normal. The final step is to inject the platelet-rich preparation into the damaged joint. In total, the entire procedure—from drawing blood to injecting platelet-rich plasma—takes a couple of hours.

Normal blood typically contains between 150,000 and 450,000 platelets per microlitre, whereas platelet-rich plasma contains up to 5 times as many platelets per microlitre. Having an excessive number of platelets circulating in the bloodstream is potentially dangerous, as it can promote the formation of blood clots. However, this risk doesn't exist with platelet-rich plasma injections. This is because the platelets that are injected stay at the site of injection, and don't circulate in the bloodstream.

Because platelet-rich plasma is a treatment that uses a patient's own blood, there are few risks and side effects associated with the treatment. For instance, there's no risk of contracting an infection from the blood, and no risk of an allergic reaction. One of the most common side effects is that some people have a temporary increase in pain or swelling at the site of injection, due to the increased number of healing-promoting cells there. This is a normal reaction that usually lasts only 1 to 2 weeks.

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