Living with pain is complicated. Obviously, you’re in pain most of the time, which is a battle unto itself. But mitigating that pain is tricky. Some things work, others don’t.

Prescription pain medications can provide relief, but also can be dangerous. The controversy surrounding prescription pain medications has led to the rise of a number of alternative techniques that are both non-surgical and don’t involve prescription medications. One of these is platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, a regenerative medicine technique commonly used to treat athletes that offers non-surgical relief for hip, knee and shoulder pain.

“PRP therapy uses a patient’s own blood to heal the body,” Blount Memorial interventional pain management physician Dr. Brian Wetherington said. “Basically, the physician spins the patient’s blood in a centrifuge to separate plasma and red blood cells, and then runs the plasma through the centrifuge to concentrate the platelets. Using ultrasound guidance, the physician then injects the platelet-rich plasma into the injured or arthritic joint or other irritated area,” he explained.

Since platelets are the major clotting tool in the blood and play a critical role in tissue repair and regeneration, delivering PRP directly to an injured area speeds up natural healing. The body responds to the PRP with an inflammatory process that can jumpstart the process of repairing tissue and restoring function, particularly in the knees, hips and shoulders.

“PRP therapy focuses on using the body to help heal itself,” Wetherington said. “It could be a great option for a middle-aged patient with mild-to-moderate joint pain who is active — such as someone who does CrossFit or participates in Spartan races — isn’t ready for joint replacement and hasn’t found lasting relief from steroid injections.”

Insurance and Medicare currently do not reimburse for PRP therapy, which costs $699 per injection. In general, patients typically need at least two injections to experience relief and some patients may require a series of injections over time. Some PRP patients have reported up to a year or more of significant relief after undergoing the non-surgical therapy, according to Wetherington.

In Tennessee, PRP therapy is considered a type of alternative medicine and can be performed by any physician or nurse practitioner with no additional training in regenerative medicine required. For this reason, Wetherington says those considering the therapy — or any regenerative medicine technique — should choose their provider wisely and ask questions about the health claims being made.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there about what regenerative medicine can do and there are a lot of people performing this therapy who were brought into an office just to do injections,” Wetherington said. “At Blount Memorial, we offer FDA-compliant PRP therapy, and all of the physicians performing the therapy received training in regenerative medicine. In addition, we have expertise in the most advanced injection techniques and in using imaging to ensure accuracy,” he added.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Wetherington or Blount Memorial interventional pain management physicians Dr. Michael Bunch or Dr. Bruce Hairston, call East Tennessee Medical Group at 865-984-3864. Physician referral is required for appointment scheduling.

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