Tiger Woods’ meteoric rise to stardom and equally meteoric fall from grace, initiated a deep probe into every aspect of his personal life, including his 2008 ACL-reconstruction surgery. Dr. Tony Galea visited Woods at least four times over a two month span to perform a procedure known as “blood-spinning,” a tactic rumored to exponentially speed the healing process.
The treatment is said to expedite healing time, though much research is needed before it may be available to treat the average injury.
Blood spinning, also known as Platelet-Rich Plasma therapy, is a “treatment to help musculoskeletal issues,” according to Dr. Brian Halpern, Sports Medicine Physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Dr. Halpern says that it is best used for chronic tendon issues, partial tears in the tendons, and, recently, has been looked at as a treatment for osteoarthritis. The treatment, invented in the 1970s by oral surgeons looking to speed up the healing process, involves extracting blood from a patient’s arm and putting the blood into a centrifuge. The centrifuge spins the blood for about six minutes, separating the red and white blood cells and the platelet-rich plasma. Dr. Halpern explains, “In this substance are platelets, full of growth factors, which the body uses to heal tissue naturally; this substance is just concentrated two to three times what your body creates.”
“When you inject the substance into the problem area - say, an arthritic knee - the growth factors are released, and stem cells are ‘recruited’ to help in the healing process as well.” Doctors are also beginning to re-image the treated area (for example, the arthritic knee) to see if the injections did anything to replace cartilage. Though there is no way to quantify the difference in speed of recovery, Dr. Halpern sees an 80% response in improved function and less pain in patients after receiving the treatment.
Halpern says, though, that the treatment is still in its research stages to find the optimum injection frequency; additionally, not all uses for the treatment are known. “The procedure is not perfect for everybody and everything - it has a lot of promise but must be approached methodically.” He explained, “PRP is not yet widely available and health insurance coverage is variable…there are not yet a lot of doctors who utilize the treatment, but it is becoming more prominent.”
Some are more skeptical about this new procedure. The World Anti-Doping Agency, for example, has banned using Platelet-Rich Plasma treatment for muscle injuries (as opposed to tendon injuries) for fear that it could give an unfair advantage to athletes with access to the procedure. The American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons has said, in an article on the AAOS website, that the “available data suggests that PRP may be valuable in enhancing soft-tissue repair and in wound healing,” though specifies that “[s]ignificant additional research is needed to define the role of PRP and to determine in which settings it might - or might not - be valuable.”
Dr. Halpern said the benefits strongly outweigh any assumed negative consequences: “PRP treatment has a ton of promise. The goal is to be of benefit to the patient - we don’t want to hurt anyone. This treatment is important because we are using a patient’s own blood; the injuries are healing themselves naturally. Though tests are still being done, if it works as it seems to, Platelet-Rich Plasma treatment could really be a very important procedure for the future.”