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What are PRP Injections?

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Steven Matz and Seth Lugo have both received them recently.

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals at New York Mets Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few weeks, two Mets pitchers—Steven Matz and Seth Lugo—have received PRP injections as part of their treatment of their respective injuries. This article will dive into what PRP injections are and the role they play in a recovery process.

What are PRP injections?

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections helps the body heal as you use your own blood to facilitate faster tissue healing. Platelets are blood cells that are commonly known for creating a clot when you are bleeding. However, these blood cells also carry several enzymes and growth factors that can play a key role when tendons, muscles, and ligaments are healing. Tendons and ligaments do not have the best blood supply and therefore have longer healing times than other injuries; the better the blood supply to the area, the quicker the healing because blood carries all the healthy nutrients, enzymes, etc. necessary for a healthy recovery. PRP injections can be used to augment the blood supply to one of these blood-scarce areas, thus facilitating the tissue-healing process. The risk of these injections is relatively low as the body will not reject its own blood and a sterile environment/instruments will be used.

What kind of injuries are treated with PRP injections?

PRP injections are commonly used for chronic tendon injuries, acute ligament or muscle injuries, and arthritis, among other injuries. Matz was diagnosed with a flexor tendon strain (likely a chronic issue from pitching) while Lugo has acute ligament injury (partially torn UCL) after pitching in the World Baseball Classic. While the efficacy of PRP injections are highly contested in the scientific literature, there is no reason to not treat with the injections as the risk is low and both pitchers are shut down for the time being to allow full recovery.

What happens after a PRP injection?

Once the injured site received a PRP injection, the inflammatory process is rebooted, which is why patients are typically shut down for one-to-three weeks after to ensure appropriate healing. As the soreness and aching subsides, the patient will gradually increase their activity level until they are back to baseline. Physical therapy is prescribed to regain strength, flexibility, etc. to prevent setbacks and recurrence of injury; the biggest improvements with performance can be expected from weeks 2-6 following the injection. Following the six-week mark, the patient can resume sports-related activities and training at high intensities.

While Matz and Lugo are facing longer rehabs than ideal, PRP injections are a useful method to promote quicker healing despite the physical activity restrictions following the injection. Matz received his injection on March 29 and was shut down for three weeks as a result; this means that he will resume throwing and increase rehab starting next week to ultimately heal from the flexor tendon strain and return to pitching. If things go well, we can expect Matz to make his season debut by early May barring any setbacks.

The timetable for Lugo is slightly more tricky as the significance of the tear is unknown to the public. The injection may help to heal the tear and Lugo can rehab his elbow to full strength, or the injection will not be enough to fully heal the ligament thus requiring Tommy John surgery and effectively ending his season.