In 2019, Griffin Canning was a promising pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels when issues with his elbow began interfering with his game. An MRI showed damage to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his elbow and severe irritation in the joint.

Rather than undergoing the common “Tommy John” surgery which involves transplanting a ligament from another part of the body to the elbow, in the spring of 2020, Canning got a series of platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) injections. This July, he told the Los Angeles Times, “It just feels like normal, honestly, like my elbow has felt in the past when I haven’t had any issues with it . . .  I definitely feel 10 times better than I did in the spring.” After a successful summer, Canning was nominated for a Golden Glove, although he didn’t win. 

With pitchers putting all their power behind 100 throws that reach 90 to 100 mph per game, it’s no wonder shoulder and elbow joints begin to break down. If Canning had undergone Tommy John surgery, he would have been sidelined for a year, a difficult prospect for a 24-year-old in the prime of his career.  

More and more professional and amateur athletes, weight-lifters, outdoor enthusiasts, and others are turning to platelet-rich-plasma injections for effective healing in joints. Even dentists are using it more with their tooth extraction and implant procedures.  PRP has been proven to be effective, resulting in:

  • less pain and swelling after surgery
  • faster healing
  • lower rates of infection
  • lower occurrence of dry socket after a tooth extraction
  • better overall healing
  • better strength of the involved bone 

Injection of platelet-rich plasma is a non-surgical, low-risk, natural treatment proven to improve healing and function of joints. In addition to relieving inflammation, it’s been proven to slow or halt joint degeneration (osteoarthritis), help repair damaged cartilage, and even form new cartilage. Several studies have even reported that it improves the natural production of lubricating fluid in the joints, reducing joint friction. 

What is Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) and Why Does It Work?

Platelet-rich plasma is nothing more than your own drawn blood, concentrated. We take a few tubes of your blood and run it through a centrifuge to concentrate the platelets. These platelets contain “growth factors,” proteins that stimulate cell growth, differentiation, and tissue repair. When the platelets are re-injected into your joints, they can create healing on a number of levels. Because the injection involves only your own blood, you are not at risk for allergic or other adverse reactions. 

How Joint Issues Manifest

Joints are vulnerable to several tears including the shoulder’s acromioclavicular (AC), the knee’s posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) as well as the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) Griffin Canning experienced in his elbow. In addition to shoulder, elbow, and knee, joint injuries can occur in the ankles, wrists, and thumbs as well. If you’ve been diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury, knee, elbow, or ankle “sprain,” most likely you have injured a tendon and bone in one of these areas.  Common causes of joint injuries are:

  • repetitive motion (ask the professional pitchers)
  • bicycle wrecks
  • car accidents
  • falls
  • strenuous labor
  • arthritis

Injured joints swell, limiting their range of motion or even making them immobile (referred to as frozen shoulder, locked knee, tennis elbow.) 

PRP Joint Therapy Success

Most often, we provide PRP joint therapy to patients with shoulder, knee, and hip pain and inflammation. We’ve also successfully helped those with elbow and hand joint issues.  

Recently, a patient came in complaining of pain in his right shoulder. Pain lifting and reaching overhead had severely limited his once-frequent workouts. Formerly, he’d undergone surgery for a SLAP tear, or a “superior labral tear from anterior to posterior” in his left shoulder. When he began feeling similar pain in that right shoulder, this time he chose to explore non-surgical, less invasive procedures where he also could avoid post-surgery, chronic pain medication. We recommended PRP injections.

After the first injection, he was pain-free. Six weeks after that first injection, his range of motion was nearly back to normal and he was able to resume a workout schedule close to that he enjoyed before the pain started. He will receive a third shot and monitor his shoulders closely. We have many more similar stories that involve professional athletes, weekend warriors, accident victims, and arthritis sufferers. 

Those Most Likely to Benefit from PRP Joint Therapy 

While we see far more PRP joint injection successes than not, this therapy doesn’t work for everyone. St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez tried PRP injections in the spring of 2018, but had to resort to shoulder surgery that fall. Like most post-surgery, he had to sit on the bench for most of the 2019 season to allow the benefits surgery provides to take effect. 

We find PRP joint therapy works for mild to moderate injuries that are not so far gone. Some severe injuries only surgery can fix. Also, those over 65 may not be able to enjoy the benefits of their own potent platelets, unfortunately. Their PRP may not be as robust, although very healthy seniors can still benefit. 

Don’t tolerate joint pain for too long because, once initiated, issues can only get worse. Talk to your doctor about your options to heal your joints either with or without surgery.