I’ve written many times about platelet-rich plasma and talked about it in detail on my show. I have discussed what the treatment is, the theory behind why it was thought to speed the healing process, and the data about its effectiveness.
Platelet-rich plasma has received tremendous attention from athletes and the media for its theoretical benefits to speed the healing of injured tendons, ligaments, and muscle. While scientific evidence showing a definitive benefit has been lacking, many elite athletes undergo the procedure to try to return to sports faster.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has been concerned that PRP has an ergogenic effect. While PRP is currently allowed, concern that it could increase levels of growth factors that are currently banned still exists.
A study in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine by Amy S. Wasterlain et al looks at the effects of PRP injections and if they increase levels of growth factors within the body. They measured levels of six growth factors thought to be performance enhancing by WADA in 25 athletes receiving PRP injections.
The authors found that serum levels of three or ergogenic growth factors – IGF-1, VEGF and bFGF – increased significantly after PRP injections. They also found that the levels of these growth factors rose because the PRP started a biological process that led to the athletes’ bodies producing more of the growth factors, not from the growth factors within the injected PRP alone.
These findings lead to some important questions:
Can a test be developed that can accurately determine if growth factors are elevated due to PRP injections instead of due to separate use (for performance-enhancing reasons)?
Do these increases in growth factors, especially the increases from PRP injections, actually help improve performance?
Should WADA revisit its prior ban on platelet-rich plasma?
Further research into these questions, and further research into whether or not platelet-rich plasma is effective for healing of sports injuries, is needed in the coming years.
Do you think that platelet-rich plasma has the potential to be misused for performance-enhancing reasons? How should WADA and sports organizations treat athletes who want to use it to treat injuries? Share your thoughts below!
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Wasterlain AS, Braun HJ, Harris AHS, Kim H-J, Dragoo JL. The Systemic Effects of Platelet-Rich Plasma Injection. Am J Sports Med. 2013;1(1):186-193.