Blood therapy may be drug-free answer to chronic pain
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Thursday, July 9, 2009 9:54PM EDT
A drug- and surgery-free treatment doctors use to alleviate tendonitis and other ailments in athletes may become standard therapy for a number of common injuries in average folks.
It's called platelet-rich plasma therapy and involves injecting a patient's own blood to an injured area. The technique appears to kick-start the body's ability to repair bone, muscle and other tissue.
According to The New York Times, Pittsburgh Steelers stars Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu had the treatment for nagging injuries, which allowed them to play throughout this year's playoffs and win the Super Bowl.
Professional soccer and baseball players have also received platelet-rich plasma therapy in place of medication or surgery.
Pain specialist Dr. Gordon Ko, from Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital, said PRP therapy represents a significant change in how pain is treated.
"We are moving away from just using pharmaceuticals to relying on the body's own healing mechanisms," Ko told CTV News.
Ko now offers the therapy to non-athletes on an experimental basis. The treatment first requires drawing a vial of blood from a patient before it is spun in a centrifuge to separate the plasma. The plasma ends up with a very high concentration of platelets, cells that release proteins and other growth factors that help the body heal its injuries.
The procedure is less invasive than surgery, doesn't leave a scar and requires minimal recovery time. There is also little chance of an allergic reaction, because the platelets come from the patient's own blood.
"This is a breakthrough type of approach," Ko said. "This is an injection approach that has minimal risk."
Ruth Grant, one of Ko's patients, injured her back playing tennis about a year-and-a-half ago.
"I felt something snap in my buttocks and I thought, 'Oops, what have I done?'"
She had little success with a variety of treatments over the course of a year before she saw Ko, who told her that she had pulled a ligament. She then underwent PRP therapy.
"Literally, after one treatment, I could feel a vast improvement. And Dr. Ko assures me that the plasma will continue to work for quite a few months," Grant said. "So it's not like it's over yet. It's still rebuilding, still re-strengthening muscle, re-strengthening my ligament. It will get better and better."
Studies on PRP therapy's efficacy in treating injuries ranging from rotator-cuff strains to knee-ligament tears are underway, and Ko hopes to begin Canadian trials soon.
Because it's experimental, the treatment, which costs about $700 per injection, is not covered by health plans. While some patients, like Grant, need only one injection to experience considerable benefit, some will need several treatments.
Fitness trainer Anthony Giorgio hopes that PRP therapy will lead to a speedier recovery from elbow tendonitis.
"I want healing without any medication," Giorgio said. "I've heard it used on professional athletes... this is more of a natural approach."
With a report from CTV's medical correspondent Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip