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SALT LAKE CITY -- Andrei Kirilenko got a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection earlier this week in Los Angeles. The therapy is designed to speed up the healing process on his injured calf muscle. But the Utah Jazz player is not alone. The injections -- pulled from an athlete's own blood -- have been used on Tiger Woods, Lindsey Vaughn and key players with the Pittsburgh Steelers, to name a few.
For athletes who've run out of options and want to get back in the game sooner than later, doctors use this simple technique, hoping to speed up repairs on damaged tissue.
Dr. Amy Powell, a sports specialist with the University of Utah Orthopaedic Center, says, "We draw your own blood and spin it down. We take the nutrient package and inject it right back into the injured area."
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, PRP failed to show any difference when compared to athletes who got a placebo. Both study groups also went to orthopedic centers to undergo standard rehabilitation for their injuries. The conventional rehab techniques have a proven track record for getting players back on their feet.
But even the authors of the study believe PRP deserves more research. "I think we're all excited about this," Powell says, "because this is a natural treatment that we don't think will cause any harm. And it makes a lot of sense to inject plasma-rich nutrients into an injured area than to inject, say, cortisone."
Powell and her colleagues are following many studies that are currently testing the injections on injured knees and damaged rotor cuffs. While she admits the science is lacking, "We're using it without a whole lot of guidance right now, but I think some of the initial results are pretty exciting," she says. "From a theoretical standpoint, it sure looks good."