SEATTLE -- Athletes are using their own blood to heal more quickly from sport-related injuries, and now this innovative procedure is available for the rest of us in Western Washington.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward had it done. So did his teammate, safety Troy Polamalu. That's good enough for recreational tennis player Tran Trang, who takes her game just as seriously.
"You keep playing even though your arm is sore and then, one day, I couldn't lift a coffee pot. I couldn't open a door knob. I couldn't shake a hand. It just hindered my everyday living," said Trang, who suffers from tennis elbow.
"She's tried physical therapy. She's done a home exercise. She's had cortisone injections and nothing's really worked for her and so her next option is surgery and so she decided to try this instead," said Dr. Kim Harmon, University of Washington Sports Medicine Clinic.
The procedure is called platelet rich plasma therapy, or PRP. Harmon says blood is first drawn from the patient's good arm then put through a centrifuge for 15 minutes to separate out the blood components.
Then, using ultrasound to guide the needle, the patient's own plasma is injected into the damaged area where it then supercharges the healing process.
"Instead of just getting rid of inflammation or getting rid of the pain, we're actually trying to stimulate the tendon to heal itself," said Harmon.
Trang's elbow should be feeling a lot better in three to 12 weeks, and without surgery.
Tendon surgery typically costs up to $15,000. PRP ranges from $1,000 to $1,500 and works for knees and hamstrings as well as elbows. It is covered by some, but not all, insurance companies.
Another treatment possibility, which would be even less expensive, is injecting whole blood. The University of Washington will be conducting clinical trials to find out if that option is as effective as PRP.