Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP) has begun to adopt the appropriate title of “blood spinning.” This post aims to differentiate that label from “blood doping”: a separate treatment with separate intent. Simply stated, PRP aims to repair soft-tissue tears naturally, blood doping attempts to enhance red blood cell counts artificially.
Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP or blood spinning) is the removal of a small amount of blood from a patient with a soft tissue injury (tendon, ligament, muscle, etc.). The blood contains healing components called platelets that release growth factor used by the body to grow and create cells. These platelets are not normally used by the body in large enough concentrations in various injuries. Patients’ blood is thus spun in a centrifuge, which extracts and concentrates these natural healing platelets. The concentrated platelets are then directly injected into an injury, catalyzing the body’s natural healing abilities. This entire process takes roughly an hour.
The Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy process is very safe, with almost no risk of side effects because the platelets come from the patient. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has approved the use of PRP in all soft tissue excluding intramuscular injection. When injected directly into muscle, it is possible PRP may enhance muscle growth.
PRP has been widely used in professional athletics and deemed a legal form of therapy for soft tissue tears and tendinitis. Hines Ward, Troy Palamalu and Tiger Woods are among a growing list of professional athletes who have used PRP to expedite their own healing. However, the therapy’s true potential lies in healing injuries for the general public; the weekend warrior hindered by Achilles tendinosis, and the construction worker with a torn elbow tendon.
“Blood Doping” on the other hand, has various means and a multitude of procedures, all with the same intention: to increase red blood cells in the blood stream. It has been deemed illegal by WADA, the International Olympic Committee and International Cyclist Union, and can have life threatening side effects. Recently, cyclist Floyd Lanis admitted to blood doping and accused 7 time Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong, of the same.
Red blood cells carry oxygen to muscles and increased red blood cell counts result in oxygen being taken to muscles more efficiently. This gives aerobic athletes a significant advantage because they battle less fatigue.
While red cell counts can be increased naturally by training at high altitudes where less oxygen is present, blood doping gives athletes an increased and illegal boost. To gain the higher count through doping, athletes inject themselves with erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production. EPO has been pervasive in the top levels of cycling for the past two decades. Because it thickens the blood, it has dangerous side effects such as blood clotting that can cause heart attacks and strokes. An abnormally high red blood cell count can also result in impaired blood flow and death.
Another form of blood doping involves having four units of blood removed a month prior to athletic competition and spun through a centrifuge to remove red cells. Three weeks later, the concentrated red blood cells are transfused back into the athlete. While blood spinning is inherent to the process, the material collected is unique and for a different purpose than PRP.
Where Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy may be described as blood spinning, it should not be confused with blood doping.