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Platelet-rich plasma therapy: just another placebo?

January 17th, 2010

“Platelet-rich plasma therapy” is a pretty hot topic these days, what with sports doc Anthony Galea (who has performed the technique on countless professional athletes) under the microscope because of a criminal investigation, and recreational athletes getting in on the action too. It’s a pretty simple concept: extract the patient’s blood, spin it in a centrifuge to concentrate the platelets (and ditch the red blood cells), then re-inject the platelets at the injury site (e.g. Achilles tendon, tennis elbow, other tendon injuries).

There have been some encouraging studies over the past few years, but a discordant note has just emerged in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dutch researchers injected 54 patients with Achilles tendon problems, and followed up with them over the course of 24 weeks. Sure enough, the patients improved on measures of pain and activity level — the problem is, half of them were injected with a placebo, and there were no statistical differences between the two groups.

Needless to say, this doesn’t prove that the procedure doesn’t work. But it should throw a bit of cold water on hopes that it would be a miracle treatment.

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