Platelet-Rich Plasma Treatment Soothes and Heals Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow is a common condition with a misleading name. A condition affecting the tendons and muscles around the elbow, tennis elbow develops when the tendons that attach muscles to the bony bump on the outside of your elbow bone — the lateral epicondyle — become inflamed. Although tennis players can develop tennis elbow, the condition most commonly occurs in adults ages 30 to 50 who perform repetitive activities, such as painting, gardening, turning a wrench, and swinging a hammer.
For most people, healing from tennis elbow (medically known as lateral epicondylitis) involves periods of rest, which can keep them from their jobs or other important activities. In recent years, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment has shown promise. Delivered via injection, the therapy boosts the body's natural abilities to repair and restore damaged tissue. Here's what you need to know about PRP treatment.
What is PRP treatment?
Blood contains a rich combination of red and white blood cells, plasma, and platelets. Platelets help blood clot, but they also contain an abundance of growth factors, which are important proteins the body needs to heal. PRP is valuable because it contains a surplus of platelets.
To make PRP, a clinician first draws blood. Next, a machine called a centrifuge separates plasma and platelets from red and white blood cells. This concentrated dose of disease-fighting proteins — up to 10 times stronger than normal plasma — is then injected into the damaged area to provide relief from pain. PRP is often referred to as a form of regenerative medicine, which is used to replace or repair damaged cartilage, organs, cells, and tissues.
PRP treatment: a new alternative for people with tendinitis
Tennis elbow is a form of tendinitis, a condition characterized by inflamed tendons. The body uses inflammation to heal itself. Immune system cells surround the affected area, releasing chemicals that help fight off infection.
PRP has anti-inflammatory effects and helps heal tennis elbow by boosting the body's natural recovery processes. By increasing the concentration of growth factors in the injured elbow, PRP helps speed up the healing process, decrease pain, stimulate the growth of new healthy tissues, and promote faster recovery.
Early research found PRP treatments to perform better than steroids for people with tennis elbow, but PRP is still relatively new, so your results may not be the same as those of someone else.
Is PRP worth it?
Many common treatments for tennis elbow, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroid injections, offer temporary relief from pain. PRP treatments generally offer longer-term relief. However, depending on the severity of your tennis elbow symptoms, you may need several PRP treatments to find relief. The injections are normally spaced a few weeks apart.
Studies have shown PRP injections to be safe and effective. Because the PRP treatment is made from your own plasma, the risk of an allergic reaction or other side effects is low. Some people feel lightheaded any time they have blood withdrawn — to prevent this you may want to eat and drink something before and after the PRP procedure. After the PRP treatment you may feel some soreness at the injection site.
When PRP is used to treat tennis elbow, it's usually used in combination with other treatments. Along with NSAIDs and steroid injections, those may include resting and supporting the elbow joint, and physical therapy.
Are you a good candidate for PRP injections?
PRP therapy is not for everyone. If you have a low platelet or plasma count, anemia, unstable blood pressure or angina, for example, your provider may advise against PRP injections for your tennis elbow. PRP therapy may also be costly for some people, as most health insurance carriers do not cover it. Still, for those living with tennis elbow pain, the benefits of PRP therapy might outweigh the cost.
Reid Health's sports medicine team offers PRP treatment to patients who may benefit. To find out if PRP treatment is right for you, request an appointment today.