While they’re extremely effective at helping speed up wound healing and aiding physical therapy, most traditional treatments of sports injuries and other similar types of conditions can be somewhat invasive at times. In terms of pain relief, most people will have to rely on heavy medications, surgery, and other invasive methods – which can have continuous outcomes that can last for weeks after treatment. As an alternative, more and more people are turning to autologous blood injections and platelet-rich plasma treatments to help accelerate the wound healing process.
So what’s the difference between autologous blood injections (ABIs) and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatments? Both of these treatments use the healing capabilities of your own blood for a marked improvement in pain relief, boost the effects of active treatments, and help with the wound healing process. However, the level of processing that both treatments – and your blood – can make a marked difference in their effects.
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One thing to understand before looking at the difference between ABI and PRP treatment is their shared similarity: using your blood as the primary method for accelerating the wound healing process.
Using your own blood to make your body recover faster has been used in many applications of conventional medicine, but most popularly in sports medicine. Conditions like chronic tennis elbow, chronic plantar fasciitis, or most types of symptomatic knee injury normally require extensive treatments which can drastically affect an athlete’s performance. This is why most sports medicine has turned to more regenerative therapies to treat soft tissue injuries and other similar conditions.
The blood contains most of the compounds needed to heal the body – but in particular, it contains platelets. Platelets are responsible for your body’s mechanism of action when it receives an injury: specifically, they help the blood clot so you don’t bleed out when you get an injury. However, they also have other benefits that can help with the wound healing response, like helping deal with inflammation and improving your overall immune function.
Normally, the platelet concentration in your body only responds if you’ve had an extensive injury – but some studies have shown that injection of platelet concentrate into your body can trigger wound healing without the need for active injuries. As a result, injections of blood (or platelet-rich plasma) have steadily become more popular as a method of treating almost any kind of injury on the body.
While the outcome measures on using your own blood for regenerative therapies can differ, some significant advantages come with using your own blood for treatment, as your own blood is compatible with your own body, the procedure is non-invasive, and it can also transition to long-term treatments.
The first major benefit of using these types of treatments is that it has maximum bio-compatibility with your system: in short, your body is less likely to reject the treatment or develop an adverse effect like an allergic reaction after a single injection.
This has traditionally been a problem with most types of medication and some traditional methods of treatment – since they’re manufactured using artificial components, there’s always the risk that the body will develop an allergy or just outright not be compatible with the form of treatment. This limits a patient’s options when it comes to their treatments, which can be an issue if it’s a chronic condition that requires long-term treatment.
However, your own body is unlikely to reject your own blood (and the accompanying cells) during these treatments, which makes them reliable ways to improve the wound healing process. While a full, controlled study on the rejection rate of blood-based treatments still hasn’t been made, the initial responses were promising enough for practitioners to start using them for ABI and PRP treatments.
Another benefit of blood-based treatments is that you don’t really have to experience anything too traumatic or stressful to your body to benefit. At most, what you’ll be dealing with is a few injections to get the blood out, wait while it’s processed or improved, then a few other injections to apply it to the area that needs treatment. Depending on your condition, you can have your treatment over in a single injection.
The reason why this is important is that the body can only take so much when it comes to treatments – it’s why aggressive methods like chemotherapy are used sparingly, even though they’re effective. While there’s strong evidence to show that using autologous blood injections and platelet-rich plasma treatments don’t cause drastic side effects, most providers would still classify (and administer) them as conservative treatments.
In any case, a few injections are vastly more preferable to more patients compared to getting put on strong medications or going through surgery. Statistical analysis of most of the patient feedback about these types of treatment mostly agrees that the non-invasive nature of blood-based injections is one of their primary reasons why they prefer them over traditional treatments.
Finally, it’s possible to transition into long-term treatments using ABI or PRP treatments alone. While this does come with a couple of caveats – for example, that you find a qualified and experienced provider – the mechanism of action in regards to how both treatments work makes them suitable for long-term treatments.
Unlike medication (which a person can overdose from) or surgery (which can put too much strain on the body), blood-based treatments like autologous blood injections or platelet-rich plasma therapy don’t strain the body too much. Your body is perfectly capable of replacing the blood that’s been used in your injections and is more likely to accept these types of treatments because of their increased biocompatibility.
All this means that unlike most forms of medical treatment that can be destructive or resisted by the body over time, blood-based treatments can last indefinitely as long as the body keeps responding well to the treatment. While the exact length of time will differ depending on the patient’s condition, most patients tend to respond favorably to ABI or PRP injections over time.
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So what exactly is autologous blood injection? “Autologous” is a medical term that means “acquired from the same person”, so an ABI is exactly what it says on the tin – an injection of your own blood to the part of your body that needs treatment.
Typically, the blood is drawn from a venous system (usually your arm), then injected into an area like the tendon of the area that you’re experiencing pain or discomfort with. The additional blood and concentration of platelets in the area drastically boost your body’s recovery, especially because of the increased levels of PDGF (platelet-derived growth factor) in your system.
PDGF is one of the many compounds in your body that are responsible for increasing the efficacy of its natural wound healing processes. It’s particularly effective for helping treat sports-related injuries, which is why most patients with tennis elbow will get ABI injections to restore or maintain healthy elbow function.
ABI injections can be spread out over the area that needs treatment, though typically injections are limited by how much blood can be drawn safely from the patient. The exact proportions of drawn blood can also differ based on the underlying condition that needs treatment, though a rule of thumb most providers follow is a larger concentration of blood for larger areas of the body.
Platelet-rich plasma treatments are virtually identical to autologous blood injections, but with one crucial difference – the drawn blood is processed so that only the platelets are injected back into the body. This is based on the theory that a higher concentration of pure platelets will boost the effects of the injection.
Blood for PRP treatments is also drawn from the arm or other limbs, though typically they’ll need more blood so that a higher concentration of pure platelets can be processed from the solution. After removing other compounds from your blood like red blood cells, white blood cells, and other types of cells, your provider will inject the pure PRP sample straight to the area that needs treatment.
There are some minor differences in how some providers will handle PRP treatments, which you need to keep in mind if you’re looking at it as a potential long-term treatment. Some providers add fibrin to the PRP solution so it binds to the treated area better, which is a process known as platelet-rich fibrin matrix treatments. Others will vary the concentration of platelets in the serum or will keep specific parts like white blood cells to increase the efficacy of your injection.
PRP treatments tend to take more time and effort compared to ABI injections, but initial clinical outcomes do show that they have more success with treating a wider variety of medical and cosmetic concerns. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to find PRP treatments for all sorts of conditions, from hair loss to chronic back pain.
While a systematic review of both of these treatments is still in the works, there’s a lot of evidence to show that they do help patients experience drastic improvements in their bodies without having to resort to surgery. However, there may be some patients that can see these treatments as being too invasive for their liking – especially if their issues tend to be minor or are on the cosmetic side of things.
Specifically, patients who are looking to improve the appearance of their hair and help their scalp health may find using PEP Growth Factor Products to be a better alternative to ABI and PRP injections. PEP growth factor products are based on the same science that maxes out biocompatibility for better treatment but without the need of extracting blood or anything from you.
In particular, there are three benefits to PEP growth factor products:
PEP growth factor products are made from a proprietary mixture of fibroblast growth factor, copper peptides, and other essential nutrients that may improve hair density and promote better scalp health. These products can be taken on their own, or combined with other treatments like LED light therapy to improve their results.
While they can admittedly fall below the efficacy of pure PRP treatments or long-term ABI injections, they’re still an excellent alternative to consider if you don’t have the time or inclination to go through the processes required from those treatments. They’re simple enough that most people can use them safely and have little to no side effects associated with regular and long-term use.
Most treatment options that revolve around a non-invasive way to boost the healing process will usually involve regenerative medicine like autologous blood injection or platelet-rich plasma treatment. Most clinical outcomes of these treatments have so far proved promising compared to corticosteroid injections or steroid injections when it comes to managing pain and healing wounds. However, a more systematic review is required to make sure that these treatments can be reliably used to get results, which is a level of evidence that can take a while to get. However, if you are looking for conservative treatment options, either method can definitely give you functional outcomes – just remember to manage your expectations.
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