Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Nobody Makes Me Bleed My Own Blood!" -White Goodman, Dodgeball

If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge an injury. Or, maybe not. Unfortunately, the movie Dodgeball's philosophy does not necessarily apply to us runners, for whom no amount of pointlessly dodging wrenches will lessen the chance of injury.

Those of you who have had or are currently dealing with a debilitating injury know how frustrating it is, waiting and cross-training with your fingers crossed, wishing you could will the body's seemingly never-ending healing time to speed up. If you've been running for very long, it is likely you've had experience with a number of injuries. As I was, you may be excited to hear of a treatment called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy that could potentially revolutionize sports medicine.

What is Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy?

PRP therapy essentially involves extracting the patients blood, placing it in a centrifuge to isolate the platelets (microscopic image shown at left) in a concentration 3 to 10 times that of normal blood, and injecting around 1 to 2 teaspoons of the substance into the injured area. Because of its high platelet concentration, it has the ability to spur the production of new bone cells or soft tissue. Also, the clotting that platelets are known for does not occur in areas like ligaments in tendons because these structures are not well-vascularized, or not accustomed to receiving blood otherwise.

Pros and Cons of PRP

The treatment is not appropriate in all cases, but it is a good non-surgical alternative to "problems that don't have a great solution," according to assistant professor of orthopedics at Stanford University Medical Center, Dr. Allan Mishra. In addition, the procedure costs $2,000 - a seemingly staggering amount, until one compares this figure to the typically $15,000 or more of surgery. It is also possible that, once the therapy has become more commonplace, insurance companies would cover PRP and make it a first course of treatment.

Also on the positive side, the non-surgical PRP is much less likely to cause infection, doesn't cause scarring, has a shorter recovery time than surgery, and takes a mere 20 minutes.

But, hold your horses ladies and gentlemen, because like everything, this procedure does have a down-side. Unfortunately, despite the great optimism with which the orthopedic community views the treatment, in an estimated 20% to 40% of cases, PRP is ineffective in treating the injury.

Although still in an experimental phase, as it's not yet fully available in clinical settings per patient request, it implies great prospects for athletes who find themselves hindered by stubborn, nagging injuries. Introduced in the 1970's, platelet-rich plasma therapy only recently began to receive media attention in light of new technological advances, as well as Pittsburgh Steelers players Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu finding great success with treatment two weeks prior to their Super Bowl game. Their stories truly illustrate the promises PRP makes for many athletes sidelined by an injury.

Ward, having a medial collateral knee ligament tear (which has a roughly 4-6 week healing time) treated with a combination of PRP, intense rehabilitation, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, was able to make two catches in the big game. Ward's teammate Polamalu had a strained calf and was also treated with PRP. Polamalu was deemed well enough to play in the Super Bowl, in which he intercepted and returned the football for a 40-yard touchdown.

What Does This Mean For Runners?

Many runners have a hard time relating their own sport to that of football, but PRP's application promises a method of rehabilitation that reaches across the expanse of many sport-related injuries. This therapy is music to my ears after having endured my fair share of injuries, most notable of which was a metatarsal stress fracture that lingered for several months. I know that now, if someone gave me the opportunity to have PRP therapy and "bleed my own blood" (according to White Goodman from Dodgeball) in the midst of a nasty injury, I'd put my fear of needles aside for my love of running.


  1. Anytime Dodgeball can be applied to real life, I consider it a good day.

  2. Thanks for stopping by my humble little blog. It is really interesting the different kinds of therapy methods that are coming out for athletes. I'm still hoping to avoid as many injuries as I can.

  3. dogdgeball was awesome, so many great one liners in that movie....interesting about prp, i've never heard of that before...

  4. it'd have to be reallly bad sidelining injury i think. i hate being poked with needles.

    but, i also hate not-running... so maybe i would suck it up for the cause. hopefully i never have to make that decision!

  5. That's really interesting, and all new information to me! Here's to hoping for no injuries at all, but keeping this in mind just in case.

  6. Very interesting. I can't wait for treatment like these to become more you think it'll ever happen? It sounds like something reserved for elites...