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I recently agreed to my first backpacking trip. Destination: Isle Royale in Northern Michigan. My guide was a friend who has hiked this national park for over 15 years.  I naively thought, “How hard could it be?” I’m in pretty good shape, so I figured carrying a 30-pound pack was doable.

On the first day, we set a goal for 15 miles. Seemed reasonable enough. (Cue eye rolls from experienced backpackers). Exactly what I had agreed to didn’t register until I chatted up fellow backpackers along the trail. I got a lot of wide-eyed looks and comments like “Whoa–15 miles. That’s a lot!”

By the 7th or 8th mile, my left knee felt a little sore, but I kept moving. By the 10th mile, I could barely bend my knee without experiencing airlift-me-outta-here type pain. I had five miles to go,and it was only day one.

During one of our breaks, I retrieved my handy GCM Travel Pack and swallowed a course of anti-inflammatory meds. I thought, “God bless my patients who experience this level of joint pain and incapacitation on a daily basis.”

By day three, as I limped along with the aid of walking sticks (two dead tree limbs that I picked up along the trail), I thought about the conundrum in which patients find themselves. If you have chronic joint pain, what are your options after prescription medications and cortisone shots no longer help? No one wants to undergo surgery. And we physicians aren’t quick to recommend it either because of the risks, slow recovery and rates of satisfaction. So what non-surgical options are out there?

One non-surgical option came to us when we hired Hadi Shah, M.D., who is board-certified in both Family and Sports Medicine. The latter training means he’s up-to-date on the latest advances in musculoskeletal medicine. One of those techniques is Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP). It’s used to treat an array of painful conditions, including arthritis, strains, tears, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel and plantar fasciitis, just to name a few.

We asked Dr. Shah about the benefits of PRP:

Q: What is PRP therapy exactly?

Dr. Shah: PRP allows the body to repair itself. We draw blood from your arm and then spin it to separate and concentrate the platelets. These platelets—proteins called growth factors—are responsible for healing. We inject the platelets into the joint. I know precisely where to inject the plasma because I use an ultrasound machine to identify the entry point. Not everyone uses ultrasound guidance, but I believe it’s key to knowing exactly where to inject the PRP.

Q: How effective is PRP?

Dr. Shah: More and more research is coming out about the benefits. Most patients experience some relief within three weeks. Maximum improvement can take up to 12 weeks. But results vary case-by-case. Whether you see improvement depends on the severity of damage and how many PRP treatments one gets. For some, one injection helps. For others, multiple injections spaced several weeks apart are recommended.

Q: Is PRP safe?

Dr. Shah: Yes, it’s similar to getting a standard joint injection. The main concern—as with any procedure—is risk of infection, which is why we maintain a sterile environment. Recent literature also suggests that PRP has antimicrobial effects so it actually decreases the chance of post-procedural infections.

Q: How do I know if PRP is a good option for me?

Dr. Shah: Let’s talk about it. We’ll review what you’ve tried so far, and I can look at your imaging. You’d be surprised how many patients come to me saying, “I’ve tried anti-inflammatories. I’ve tried physical therapy. Nothing works.” I can recommend a treatment plan that may or may not include PRP. But in my opinion, PRP is one of the best and safest options available.

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