Orthobiologic treatments harness the human body’s powers of self-healing to speed up recovery times, treat pain, and replace damaged tissues. PRP, which stands for platelet-rich-plasma, and stem cell injections are two such treatments that have gained popularity within the regenerative medicine community as patients are looking for minimally invasive alternative healing methods.
While PRP and stem cell injections can be used to treat some of the same ailments, they work in different ways and because of this, they can sometimes be used in conjunction with one another. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the similarities and differences between these two treatments, what they are used to treat, and what patients can expect during and after each type of treatment.
What Exactly Are PRP and Stem Cell Injections?
PRP and stem cell injections are regenerative medical treatments used to restore and repair damaged tissue within the human body. Both treatments require drawing cells from the patient’s body and injecting those same cells (either platelets or stem cells) in a concentrated form into the site of pain or injury to facilitate healing.
How Are PRP and Stem Cell Injections Similar?
One of the major similarities between these two treatments is also one of the reasons these injections are becoming more and more popular. Both treatments are minimally invasive, and because the patient’s own blood or stem cells are utilized in these procedures, the injections pose a very minimal risk of rejection. Plus, patients do not need to be under anesthesia to receive PRP or stem cell injections, which makes both of these an appealing alternative to invasive surgeries.
How Are PRP and Stem Cell Injections Different?
PRP therapy utilizes platelets from the blood – essentially the body’s healing response to injuries – to aid in repairing damaged tissue. Platelets help the body to clot when there are any injuries that cause bleeding, but also release growth factors that facilitate tissue repair. This makes PRP injections particularly useful in treating damaged muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Stem cells, on the other hand, are undifferentiated cells. Typically, mesenchymal stem cells are harvested via bone marrow and can differentiate into bone, cartilage, muscle, or fat. When they are injected into damaged tissue, they differentiate and divide into the specific types of cells surrounding them, meaning they can help replace worn-out tissue. Stem cells also produce cytokines and growth factors, through a process called cellular signaling, which is thought to be responsible for speeding along the healing process. Stem cell injections have shown promise in being used as a treatment for degenerative diseases such as Degenerative Disc Disease.
Because of the way that PRP and stem cell injections work on a cellular level, they can complement each other when used together. Platelet-rich-plasma provides an excellent environment for mesenchymal stem cells to differentiate, which can accelerate the healing process for certain types of injuries.
What Do PRP and Stem Cell Injections Treat?
Both PRP and stem cell injections can be used to treat a range of traumatic, overuse and sports-related injuries, as well as certain types of diseases. Both of these therapies can be used to treat the following conditions:
- Rotator cuff tears
- Tendonitis such as jumper’s knee and tennis elbow
- Spinal injuries
- Overuse injuries
- Herniated spinal discs and inflammation
- Inflammatory diseases
PRP specifically can be an optimal treatment for:
- Muscle strains such as a pulled hamstring
- Muscle fibrosis especially in the back
- Ligament sprains such as an ankle, ACL, or MCL sprain
- Damaged tendons
- Damaged ligaments
- Shoulder labral injuries
Stem cell injections can be particularly useful in treating the following:
- Osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis) especially in the knee, shoulder, ankle and elbow
- Chondromalacia (damaged cartilage)
- Osteochondral joint defects
What Can I Expect During and After PRP Treatment?
From start to finish, PRP treatment typically takes between an hour to an hour and a half. It is an outpatient procedure during which patients are awake the entire time. It is possible your clinician could prescribe something to help you relax, depending on your personal consultation and treatment plan.
At the beginning of your treatment, a small amount of blood will be drawn (less than 2 ounces) and then placed in a centrifuge. As this blood spins in the centrifuge, your body’s own platelet-rich-plasma is separated out from other parts of your blood, resulting in fluid that is 2.5 to 9 times more concentrated with platelets than normal blood. This concentrated PRP is what will then be injected into the site of your injury or pain.
Once this concentrated PRP fluid is injected into your joint or muscle tissue, the injection site will be cleaned and bandaged. Your clinician will send you home with care instructions and you may experience some soreness or swelling for a few days after treatment. You will also need to give the injection site some time to rest and avoid putting too much strain on the joint for a few days.
Patients typically begin to feel pain relief about 3 weeks after receiving a PRP injection and continue to experience healing for up to 6 months. Your clinician will want to schedule a follow-up appointment to monitor your progress and may suggest additional treatments.
What Can I Expect During and After Stem Cell Treatment?
Stem cell treatment takes a bit longer than PRP treatment, lasting approximately 2 hours. It is also an outpatient procedure and patients remain awake throughout the process.
Your clinician is likely to prescribe a medication to help you relax and ease anxiety that they will instruct you to take before your treatment. In addition, you will need to avoid taking anti-inflammatory medications before and after treatment. It is best to avoid drinking alcohol or smoking as these substances are toxic to cells and can inhibit the healing process.
The biggest difference in the patient experience between PRP and stem cell treatments is in the way the injection fluid is obtained. Stem cells are typically harvested from bone marrow in the hip. You will be asked to lie down and given a local numbing medication to minimize your discomfort. Bone marrow will be drawn via a needle through a small incision using ultrasound imaging guidance. You may experience some pressure or achiness for a few seconds as the stem cells are being drawn.
Once the stem cells have been harvested, the small incision on your hip will be bandaged; the stem cells will be injected into your injury or pain site. After the completion of your treatment, you may experience some soreness in either or both the injection and harvest sites. You may take Tylenol or other non-anti-inflammatory painkillers and it’s a good idea to ice any areas that are sore or swollen.
Your clinician will give you specific post-treatment care instructions and schedule a follow-up. It is best to take a few days off work to let your body rest and heal but you should be able to resume normal activity one week after treatment. You will also want to avoid soaking underwater for a few days after treatment to give your incisions time to heal.
Similar to PRP treatment, patients can continue to see progress for up to 6 months after receiving stem cell treatment. Results should begin to be noticeable about 3-4 weeks after receiving the injection.
Want to find out more about PRP or stem cell injections? Book a consultation at Aspire Regenerative today! Our clinicians will be happy to share information about these and other innovative therapies and create a personalized treatment plan to help you reach your health and wellness goals.