Platelet rich plasma (PRP) is best known for its use to promote the healing of soft tissues around joints. The treatment may also benefit patients with conditions affecting their feet, particularly injuries involving the Achilles tendon and ankle ligaments. Prepared from a portion of the patient’s own blood, PRP injections deliver a higher concentration of beneficial platelets to injured muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints. Here’s how the treatment works and how it may help with problems affecting feet.
What Is Platelet-Rich Plasma?
The smallest of the major types of blood cells, platelets only make up about one percent of blood volume. Even so, platelets play an important role in clotting and tissue healing. Specifically, it’s proteins called growth factors in platelets that help with the healing process. Platelet-rich plasma refers to plasma that has been specially mixed from a patient’s own blood so that it has a much greater concentration of platelets.
How Does Platelet-Rich Plasma Work?
PRP is injected directly into the affected area. It’s believed that the extra concentration of platelets to the injury site speeds up the healing process because of the abundance of growth factors, which may be up to 5-10 times greater than what’s in a typical blood sample. Once the concentrated blood is prepared, a live X-ray or ultrasound may be used to help the doctor direct the injection to the appropriate location in the foot or ankle. PRP treatment is sometimes used to improve healing after surgery, as may be the case if a torn or severely damaged tendon in the foot requires surgery. A specially prepared version of PRP is used if the treatment is administered during surgery.
What Types of Foot Injuries May Be Treated with PRP?
Around feet or ankles, PRP injections may be used to facilitate the healing of tendon and ligament injuries. Achilles tendinitis, for instance, is a common injury experienced by competitive runners. This type of injury often causes the heel cord to become inflamed. The PRP mixture would be placed directly into the inflamed tissue — the heel cord, in this instance. PRP treatment may also benefit patients with other foot injuries and conditions that typically affect tissues, including:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Foot and ankle pain not responding to other treatments
- Ankle sprains
- Pain from arthritis affecting joints and tissues in feet
- Ligament damage affecting foot/ankle stability
- Non-healing diabetic foot ulcers
What Happens After a PRP Injection?
Some patients may have minor irritation around the injection site after receiving the treatment, but this is usually temporary. There may be a slight increase in discomfort after the injection is given. This occurs when the local anesthetic wears off, although any increased pain usually goes away within a few weeks once the platelet-rich plasma begins to work on tissues to stimulate healing.
Possible benefits of PRP treatment for patients with foot pain include shorter duration physical therapy programs. For most common foot injuries treated with PRP injections, short-course physical therapy typically begins about a month after treatment. The purpose of PT is to strength tendons and ligaments and restore foot and ankle flexibility and stability.
What Are Potential Benefits of PRP Injections?
In addition to reducing physical therapy and rehab time, PRP injections may also help patients with persistent foot pain delay or avoid surgery. Patients might also be able to avoid cortisone injections and similar treatments that, while beneficial, do not treat the underlying cause of a patient’s pain. Repeated steroid injections also weaken tendons and ligaments over time. Since PRP treatment stimulates tissue healing, it may provide more than just temporary relief.
How Many Injections Are Given?
Typically, patients will start with one injection. If relief is experienced after the initial injection, follow-up injections may be given. If no relief is reported, other treatments will be recommended. When PRP is successful, additional treatments may include 3-5 injections or more, depending on what results are experienced.
First used in the early 1990s for plastic surgery patients, PRP injections have since become an increasingly common treatment option for patients with soft tissue injuries. While it’s treatment often used by top athletes looking to get back in prime condition faster, the treatment has also produced positive results for other patients, including those with foot injuries and pain from conditions affecting feet. However, PRP therapy is usually only recommended if traditional treatment options aren’t effective. Since a patient’s own blood is used, risks are minimal.