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PRP Injections For The Knee

As many of you probably remember, I had a knee injury about three and a half years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just finished the Manchester Road Race in the fall of 2019. I had a strange feeling in my left knee after the run, like it was numb. I thought it was odd, but the numbness would go away when I rested, or so I thought.

After I got home, like an idiot, I didn't do much resting. I remember going to the store and noticing my knee was starting to feel like it was on fire, and I could not stand on it. It was beginning to swell. I bolted out of the store as best I could and made it home.

However, the knee was still getting progressively worse. I could not put any weight on it, and it was hurting regardless of whether I was standing or sitting down. I ended up having to go to the emergency room that night, the only time I've ever been in an ambulance.

I never want to be in that situation again. It was one of the scariest nights I've experienced. The pain was so much worse when they did an x-ray, having me move my knee certain ways to obtain an x-ray. I still don’t know why they had to get an x-ray in the condition I was in. I ended up leaving the hospital on crutches. It took a lot of physical therapy, but my knee did recover within a few weeks. Thankfully, I never had pain like that again. In fact, my orthopedist once said he thinks the only reason I’m not dealing with pain is because of my anti-inflammatory diet.

The thing is, I did deal with chronic swelling. My orthopedist figured out what had happened. I had a knee injury in college. I had twisted my left knee in my college dorm one day when cleaning the room. I healed quickly then, but the damage was done. I didn’t notice it was damaged because I wasn't running back then. I did a lot of walking at the time, but it was low-impact. But because of this injury, my knee cap does not move normally on the left side, which can cause issues.

So this college injury showed its ugly face again when I began running. It didn’t help that I had tight hamstrings and hip muscles. My knee was unstable because of the way I moved with these tight muscles. My doctor always told me that the swelling would stop when I got my knee stable. This will happen with certain exercises and something called PRP injections, also known as platelet-rich plasma.

PRP has helped countless others, including celebrity athletes like Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and Alex Rodriguez. Insurance refuses to pay for it yet, despite many studies proving that it works. I am hoping my article will be another proof that it works.

I was back to my running in 2020, feeling good and gradually getting into it again. I was getting ready for my second half marathon. This was during the peak of the pandemic, so I did the Fairfield Half Marathon virtually. I noticed toward the end of the race that I was dealing with a very tired knee. It could barely move. I rested, but a few days later, the swelling returned. I learned to take it easy when I noticed swelling coming on, never wanting it to turn into an emergency situation again. I elevate my leg, apply ice, and wear a wrap until the swelling subsides. The only problem was that this was happening more frequently.

In May 2021, I went to a knee specialist who recommended PRP injections. I read up on it and decided if it would help heal my knee, I would go for it. The only drawback is that there’s no guarantee, and I might need to do the injections again down the road if it flares up again.

I decided to go for it. I’m not a fan of lab work, and it was not fun as the technician needed about 30 tubes of blood.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy uses injections of a concentrated concentration of a patient’s platelets to accelerate the healing of joints. PRP injections are prepared by taking your blood and running it through a centrifuge to concentrate the platelets. The activated platelets are then injected directly into the knee in a few different areas. This releases growth factors that stimulate and increase the number of reparative cells your body produces.

Ultrasound imaging was used to guide the injection. It takes about half an hour for the actual procedure, not counting the blood draw.

The thing is, after the PRP, you cannot use ice for several weeks. This drove me crazy, as ice helped the most. The inflammation is encouraged so that the knee can recover. It requires a lot of patience!

So I began the healing process. I had to do several rounds of physical therapy while healing. But over the next month or two, my knee returned to normal. I slowly returned to my normal activity, wanting to go back to running again. I would do well for several months, but then it started to swell again. My doctor warned me I might need future treatments. So I went back to the same doctor. He suggested another PRP, which I did a few weeks ago. I am again doing physical therapy.

At least I know the drill now. There are exercises I do that stabilize the knee, and I am recovering well. This time around, the technician took 34 tubes of blood for the procedure. No, it’s not fun, but knowing I will heal in a few months makes it worth it.

My goal is to do shorter runs. Maybe eventually I’ll get to do more races, but if I can do short runs, I’m happy with that for the time being. The doctor does say there are no limitations as long as I keep my knee stable, so exercises to strengthen my hips, hamstrings, and calves will all play a role in getting my knee stronger.

I’m still too early in the recovery from this second PRP to know of the full benefits, but the swelling has definitely gone down to a very minimal level. I do believe it’s worth it, and I hope insurance will one day cover it.

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