Snap, Crack, Pop
As prominent athletes tout the healing powers of sports-medicine procedures, the tools used by the pros and their doctors are trickling down to weekend warriors. But what really works, and what’s nothing more than hype? A look at the front lines of sports medicine in Colorado.
BIG IDEA: Quick Fix
Platelet-rich plasma injections are generating big buzz in the sports medicine world and among pro athletes. But does the procedure really work?
WHAT IS IT? Platelet-rich plasma therapy, or PRP, is a simple concept and procedure in which a patient’s blood is removed and spun in a centrifuge to isolate the platelet-rich plasma. (Platelets help stimulate tissue recovery.) The PRP is then injected back into the injured area (say, an elbow with tendinitis) and theoretically speeds up the recovery process.
WHO'S USED IT? Tiger Woods; Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers); Takashi Saito (Arizona Diamondbacks); Donovan Bailey (sprinter).
WHAT’S THE RESEARCH SAY? Although one study showed a benefit from PRP in treating tennis elbow, critics of the study argued the methodology was flawed. Other studies thus far have come to contradictory conclusions.
SO DOES IT ACTUALLY WORK? Despite evidence that it works in some cases and testimonials from celebrity athletes, orthopedists still aren’t convinced that PRP actually works. It may work; it may not. But it’s much less expensive than surgery, and thus far it appears that there are few or no risks associated with the procedure. As Dr. Marc Philippon—managing partner of the Steadman Clinic in Vail—and his co-authors wrote in a consensus paper for the International Olympic Committee, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine two years ago: “The final recommendation of this consensus group would be to proceed with caution in the use of PRP in athletic sporting injuries. We believe more work on the basic science needs to be undertaken, and greater rigour should be implemented in developing robust clinical trials to demonstrate the efﬁcacy or otherwise of PRP.”