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Advancing Tissue Healing Without Surgery

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to benefit from a new procedure called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy.

Used in Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and Major League pitcher Takashi Saito, the technique also is being used to treat foot and ankle conditions in “weekend warriors” and to heal wounds in people living with diabetes. It can even help those suffering from arthritis, according to Sean T. Grambart, DPM, FACFAS, an Illinois foot and ankle surgeon.

PRP is a growth factor found in blood platelets that can promote the healing of bones, cartilage, blood vessels, tendons and tissue. A small vial of the patient’s blood is spun in a centrifuge to separate out the PRP, which then is injected at the injury site.

According to Grambart, he has used PRP for almost three years now and has experienced successful responses with it in his patients. “I have seen positive outcomes with chronic Achilles tendon pain, bone healing for nonunions and acute ligament injuries in athletes. I also have seen it work well in patients with chronic pain syndromes.”

For example, Dr. Grambart uses PRP when conservative measures, such as medication, splints and physical therapy, have failed in patients with chronic Achilles tendon pain. “Instead of performing a surgical procedure that involves opening the Achilles tendon, removing the scar tissue and requiring the patient to have about a six-month recovery, we can inject PRP into the tendon to bring the growth factors directly to the tendon, which can stimulate healing.”

The biggest advantage, he said, is the recovery is easier for the patient. After the procedure, the patient wears a protective boot for about two to five days and then can start to advance activities. “Patients usually notice improvement within four to six weeks and if needed, additional injections can be given as well to maximize the benefit.”

PRP therapy, however, is not a cure-all. As with most treatments, it may not work for everyone, but research to find the full effectiveness of PRP in the treatment of foot and ankle conditions continues, Dr. Grambart acknowledged.

Dr. Grambart is optimistic about the potential uses of PRP. “I think we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg with how PRP affects the different tissues within the body and how it can be used to advance healing,” he said.