Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) has the potential to speed up the body’s natural tissue healing process when placed directly into the affected area. It’s a technique that may benefit patients with spine-related pain looking to enjoy improved healing of damaged or irritated muscles and other soft tissues directly or indirectly supporting the spine. PRP injections are also appealing since the mixture used for the treatment is prepared from a highly concentrated part of a patient’s own blood.
How Do PRP Injections Work?
The majority of blood (about 90 percent) is red blood cells. Plasma and platelets make up about one percent. Platelets help with clotting and these structures have properties that also facilitate the repair of damage to tissues in joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. For patients with spine pain, the extra help with tissue healing may provide relief from discomfort caused by inflamed or irritated tissues. The PRP injection is placed directly into the affected area of the spine. Placement involves fluoroscopy (a live x-ray producing real-time images) or ultrasound guidance to identify the tissue that’s likely contributing to a patient’s pain.
How is Platelet-Rich Plasma Created?
A small amount of blood is drawn from the patient and centrifuged (spun at high speeds and separated). The red blood cells are discarded, leaving a concentrated mixture of plasma and platelets. The entire process takes about 30 minutes.
What Spine Conditions May Be Treated with PRP Injections?
PRP injections aren’t meant to be the first attempt at treating spine-related pain. However, if the use of anti-inflammatory medications and other treatments fail to provide relief, PRP injections may be recommended. Spine conditions that may respond well to this treatment include:
- Lower (lumbar) spine disc pain
- Joint problems affecting the lower spine and neck
- Sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction
- Non-specific lower back pain
Results from PRP Injections for Spine Pain
Results from the injections typically become noticeable within 4-6 weeks after the treatment. Some patients see signs of improved function sooner and may continue to experience relief from spine pain with passive forms of physical therapy, although aggressive therapeutic exercises should be avoided until tissues heal.
Risks associated with PRP injections are minimal. There may be some irritation around the injection site, but this is often temporary. If additional injections are necessary, treatments are usually spaced out about 4-6 months apart. The pain relief experienced because of the injections may allow patients to delay or avoid surgery or allow discomfort to reach a point where it’s not as disruptive.