We are just months away from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. From February 9-25, the world’s finest winter athletes will meet on the world stage to compete in events like Alpine skiing, snowboarding, and bobsleigh. Will those athletes be accompanied by doctors and trainers who promote regenerative medicine procedures like PRP therapy?
There is little doubt that there will be injuries among Olympic athletes between now and February. There is little doubt that some of those athletes will undergo non-traditional medical treatments with the goal of getting ready for the Olympic Games. Finally, there is little doubt that some of them will receive platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections rather than risk surgery. With enough publicity, it is quite possible that the 2018 Olympic Games will raise the profile of PRP therapy significantly.
What Is PRP Therapy?
You are not alone if you’re not familiar with PRP therapy. This therapy, which is one of a number of emerging regenerative medicine therapies, utilizes a person’s own blood to promote natural healing. The therapy is rooted in the understanding that human blood is rich with growth factors and a variety of nutrients that the body uses throughout the healing process.
PRP therapy extracts blood from the person being treated using standard blood draw procedures. That blood is then processed in a specialized centrifuge to concentrate platelets. According to Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI), a Utah company that trains doctors in regenerative medicine and supplies them with the necessary equipment, their centrifuge systems can concentrate platelets at up to 16 times the baseline concentration.
The concentrated plasma is then injected into the site of injury to help promote the healing process. Its platelets and growth factors go to work right away, stimulating recovery by signaling the body to get busy in the healing process.
Why Do Athletes Utilize It?
The next logical question here is why athletes would use PRP therapy instead of more traditional procedures. There are as many different answers as there are athletes. The three most common are:
- No Surgery – Athletes tend to be very wary of surgery in the knowledge that it could be career-ending. Many of them choose PRP therapy as a surgical alternative.
- Natural Healing – PRP therapy promotes natural healing by encouraging the body to do what it does more effectively. Obviously, athletes are more in line with natural healing given how much care they take with their bodies.
- Fewer Pharmaceuticals – When PRP therapy is effective for managing pain, it reduces the need to use painkillers. This is another important issue to athletes. They would rather avoid taking drugs if possible.
Would Olympic Athletes Use PRP Now?
You could make the case that PRP therapy would be more attractive to Olympic athletes in the months preceding the next round of games based on the time factor. For example, think of a downhill skier requiring a knee procedure in late October. PRP therapy may or may not get that skier back on the hill in time. But surgery at this point would surely make competing in February impossible.
It is true that PRP therapy for sports injuries and pain management is still considered investigational by the vast majority of the medical profession. However, hundreds of athletes would testify to its efficacy. It is reasonable to expect that some of those who compete in 2018 will have undergone PRP therapy at some point prior to the games. It is also reasonable to expect that some who are injured next February will use PRP therapy to recover.