Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, can have a significant impact on the quality of a person’s life, especially when it begins to affect daily tasks. But the current treatments range from pain management to joint replacement surgery, with no moderate therapy in between. However, researchers are beginning to discover that there might be another solution, and the answer may just be hiding in your veins.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint condition. In a typical joint, a layer of cartilage separates the bones so they don’t rub together as they move. In a joint with OA, the cartilage wears down and allows the bones to touch, which can cause significant pain and inflammation. While there is no cure for this condition, there are ways to manage symptoms. Common treatments include medications and physical and occupational therapy to reduce pain. If these do little to help, your orthopedist may recommend injections of corticosteroids (to numb the pain) or hyaluronic acid (to lubricate the joint) or even joint replacement surgery.
“Currently, there are no validated therapies that delay disease progression. The current standard of care is limited to the alleviation of symptoms with corticosteroids.”
— Dr. Prathap Jayaram, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center
Now, some doctors are trying something new: injecting platelet-rich plasma (PRP) into the affected area.
What is platelet-rich plasma?
PRP is an autologous therapy, which essentially means it comes from you. To perform one of these injections, a doctor has to create it from blood they draw from the patient. Let’s dive into the basics:
● Depending on where the PRP will eventually go in the body, your doctor draws a specific amount of blood and puts it in a test tube.
● The doctor places the tube into a centrifuge, which spins the blood at a high rate to separate the majority of the solids (platelets and red and white blood cells) from the liquid (plasma). Depending on the speed and duration of the centrifuge, the separated plasma can be either platelet-rich or platelet-poor. The more intense the spin, the fewer platelets there are.
● The doctor may then add more platelets to increase the concentration within the plasma.
● Next, the doctor collects this platelet-rich plasma and prepares it for injection into the joint.
● With the help of an imaging technician and ultrasound technology, the doctor finds the exact spot in the joint to inject the PRP.
Because this therapy is made of your own blood, there is little risk for allergic reaction compared to having medication injected into the joint.
How does platelet-rich plasma reduce osteoarthritis symptoms?
Platelets have granules, which release proteins called growth factors. These proteins can stimulate growth in specific tissues in the body, which can be beneficial for healing. When PRP is injected into a joint with osteoarthritis, the growth factors have the potential to reduce inflammation and regenerate tissue.
This process is exciting for researchers, doctors, and patients alike, as very few therapies that can delay disease progression in osteoarthritis are in the works.
Does platelet-rich plasma actually work for osteoarthritis management?
There have been a few studies on PRP for OA patients over the years, but they all relied solely on self-reported pain levels from participants, which can be subjective. However, a recent study conducted at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine used wearable technology to measure things like the time it takes to get up from a seated position to determine whether the PRP had a significant impact on participants.
With the information from the wearables and self-reported data from participants, researchers discovered there was significant improvement in the time it took people to stand up, the pain they felt in their joints, their balance, and their perceived quality of life. Dr. Jayaram is hopeful of this new treatment.
“PRP is emerging as one of the promising candidates to treat OA that are currently being used in clinical practice.”
However, these are just preliminary results. Doctors need to conduct more research and gather additional data from clinical trials before they can request FDA approval for it. If you have osteoarthritis, schedule an appointment with a St. Luke’s Health orthopedist to learn about treatment options and gain access to leading-edge clinical trials happening at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.
Healthline | What Is PRP?
NCBI | Knee Osteoarthritis Injection Choices: Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Versus Hyaluronic Acid (A one-year randomized clinical trial)
Medical News Today | What you need to know about PRP
CDC | Osteoarthritis (OA)
NCBI | Principles and Methods of Preparation of Platelet-Rich Plasma: A Review and Author's Perspective
Baylor College of Medicine | Platelet-rich plasma treatment shows efficacy in patients with osteoarthritis
The Washington Post | Could platelet-rich plasma injections help avoid knee surgery? More studies may give answer.
NCBI | Growth factor content in PRP and their applicability in medicine
NCBI | Platelet-rich plasma in osteoarthritis treatment: review of current evidence