Can platelet-rich plasma be used to treat an Achilles tendon injury?
The Achilles tendon, which runs down the back of the leg to the heel, is the largest tendon in the body. Pretty much every movement we make with our lower body, including walking, running, dancing, turning, jumping, going up stairs, even just standing up, involves the Achilles tendon.
Most people know that the Achilles tendon was named for a well-known figure in Greek mythology. There are probably a lot more body parts named after people, real and fictional, than you know. Some you will be familiar with, like the “Adam’s apple”, but you have likely never heard of most of them. Dorello’s canal? Von Ebner’s glands? Bundle of His?
Mythology students will remember that Achilles was a famous warrior and the hero of the Trojan War. It was said that his mother, Thetis, was one of the gods, but his father was mortal. To protect him, Thetis dipped Achilles into the River Styx, which was supposed to have magical protective powers. Unfortunately, she held on to him by his heel, and the water was not able to touch that part. This proved his undoing when he was killed by a poison arrow shot into his heel.
Achilles is a fitting name for this tendon because, like the mythical Achilles, it is super strong; the strongest tendon in the body. Activities like running and jumping put a lot of pressure on the heel, and the Achilles tendon is able to withstand forces roughly equal to 10 times our body weight. But, also like Achilles, this tendon is not invincible, and, when it is injured, the results are often instantaneous and extreme.
Injuries to the Achilles tendon are typically due to overuse or quick movements, especially shifts in direction, bursts of speed or sudden slowing down. Having fallen arches (flat feet), wearing high heels and taking certain medications can also be risk factors for injuring or rupturing the Achilles tendon.
Treatment for Achilles Tendon Injuries
Less serious injuries to the Achilles tendon may heal on their own. Conservative treatment options to help with the process include:
- Keeping weight off of the tendon by using crutches when walking
- Icing the area to help relieve pain and reduce inflammation
- Over-the-counter pain medications
- Immobilizing the ankle with a brace or boot
For injuries that are more severe, like a significant tearing or rupturing of the tendon, surgery may be suggested. This typically involves the surgeon making an incision in the back of the lower part of the leg and repairing the torn tendon.
Using Platelet-Rich Plasma to Promote Faster Healing
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are being used to increase the effectiveness of the body’s own healing mechanisms. There has been a lot of press coverage of famous sports figures, like the late Kobe Bryant, as well as Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal, who claim that PRP was responsible for them healing faster and returning to competition sooner than they were expected to be able to.
What is PRP? It involves using a sample of an individual’s blood and increasing the concentration of platelets, which are packed with important growth proteins, as well as possessing clotting properties. Once the process is complete, the new, highly-concentrated-with-platelets sample is injected back into the same person from which it was taken, at the site of the injury.
Proponents of PRP believe that this procedure shows great potential for use with ruptured Achilles tendons, ligament injuries, arthritis and post-surgical healing of other types of repairs. One of the benefits that cannot be understated is that there is little chance that it will do any harm. Since the cells that are injected are that body’s own, with nothing foreign added, complications or immune system response is highly unlikely.
If you have questions about an Achilles tendon injury or about any other foot or ankle concerns, Dr. Christopher Hubbard is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon and is the former Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in NYC. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here.