What Is a PRP Injection?
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are a treatment used to help heal an injury. These shots, which are based on your own blood, are being used more to treat sports injuries and to help wounds heal after surgery. Some doctors use it as a cosmetic procedure to target signs of aging, such as wrinkles.
Plasma is the liquid part of your blood that’s mostly water and protein. It lets red and white blood cells and platelets move through your bloodstream. Platelets are blood cells that make your blood clot. They also play a role in healing.
PRP injections are used to treat a number of conditions, including:
Golf and tennis elbow are among the sports injuries treated with PRP injections.
More recently, studies have begun looking at it as a treatment for bladder issues, problems with jaw joints, and trouble smelling after a bout of COVID-19.
They’re becoming more common for cosmetic procedures, too. For example, dermatologists and hair replacement experts use PRP injections to treat a type of hair loss called androgenic alopecia, also known as male or female pattern baldness. And some dermatologists provide PRP treatments for the face. (You may have heard these called a “vampire facial.”)
Do PRP Injections Work?
More studies are needed to see what conditions PRP might work on. So far, some research shows that it speeds healing after injury or surgery for certain conditions. Along with helping injured tissue heal, some studies show PRP injections curb pain and boost mobility for people with rotator cuff injuries and relieve symptoms in arthritic shoulders. Early research shows it might be effective in certain cases of low back pain.
But the information to date is mixed. When researchers looked at more than 20,000 PRP injections over a period of 10 years, they found it wasn't clear whether the results justified the cost.
A series of clinical studies in 2021 found that PRP injections worked no better than a placebo for people with osteoarthritis of the ankle or knee, or for Achilles tendinitis.
It can take several weeks for PRP injections to start working. For some conditions, particularly those affecting the hair or the skin, it may take up to 6 months to notice the full effects. For some conditions, including hair loss, you may need to repeat the procedure to maintain the results.
Preparing for PRP Injections
You’ll probably need to stop taking certain medications that thin your blood, like aspirin and ibuprofen, before you get PRP injections. You may also need to take a break from certain vitamins or supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids. Your doctor can tell you exactly what you need to do to prepare for these shots.
PRP Injection Procedure
To collect plasma, a doctor draws blood from your body and uses a machine called a centrifuge to separate the platelet-rich plasma from the rest of the blood. Then the doctor numbs the area of your body being treated with PRP injections. Once you’re numb, the doctor uses a needle to inject your plasma into the area of your body being treated.
For example, if you’re being treated for a muscle injury, your doctor would inject plasma into several locations in that muscle. In some cases, doctors use ultrasound technology during the shots to make sure they’re targeting the right area. PRP injections usually take about 30 minutes, though it depends on the area you’re targeting.
Once platelets are in the area that’s being treated, they break down and release growth factors, which are compounds that help cells repair and renew. This is thought to trigger your body’s healing process.
Do PRP injections hurt?
Generally, the shots are fairly painless. Your level of discomfort will depend on the location of your injury and how severe it is. The place where you get the shot might feel sore and bruise.
PRP Injection Side Effects
PRP doesn’t usually cause major side effects. But because it involves drawing blood – if your doctor recommends it – you’ll want to make sure you eat before the procedure. That will help you avoid feeling lightheaded when you get PRP injections.
After the shot, you shouldn’t wash the area that was treated for 48 hours. You might notice some soreness and bruising in the area that received injections. If you feel sharp or intense pain, let your doctor know.
Because you're being treated with your own blood, the risk of allergic reaction is fairly low. Complications you might have include:
- Damaged tissue
- Nerve injury
You can’t get PRP injections if you have:
You should only get PRP injections from a licensed doctor.
PRP Injections Cost
PRP injections may or may not be covered by your health insurance, so check your plan’s details. If you’re getting them for cosmetic reasons – for example, PRP injections for hair loss – your insurance probably won’t cover it. Treatment can cost $250 to $1,500 a session, and you may need several sessions to see results.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are a treatment designed to help your body heal from injuries like tendinitis and conditions like arthritic knees and ankles. The shots are based on your own blood. The evidence on how well they work is mixed, and there's not much research on their cosmetic uses to treat wrinkles.
PRP Injection FAQs
How long do platelet-rich plasma injections last?
The shots continue working in your body for 6 to 9 months.
What is the success rate for platelet-rich plasma injections?
The success rate depends on the condition being treated. In one study, patients who had PRP injections for hair loss reported a high level of satisfaction with the treatment. But large studies that looked at PRP injections for ankle, knee, and Achilles tendon problems raised questions about how useful the shots are.
What is the downside of PRP injections?
PRP injections carry a low risk of side effects. But the treatment is so new that researchers have many questions to resolve about the best formulas and techniques. The cost may not be covered by insurance, and you'll have to decide whether the possible benefits are worth the expense.