Elbow Pain Treatment: PRP vs. Cortisone Shots

The number of Americans complaining of chronic elbow pain is on the rise. Between osteoarthritis and sports injuries, elbow pain is becoming one of the more common conditions treated by orthopedists and sports medicine practitioners. Doctors may recommend everything from rest to pain medications or cortisone shots in an effort to avoid surgery. Is there another option? Yes, in platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy.

At Apex Biologix in Salt Lake City, Utah, they work with doctors and clinics offering PRP therapy by providing them with the equipment and supplies they need. Apex carries centrifuges, PRP kits, and more. They do what they do because they see the clear benefits of PRP therapy over cortisone shots and other options.

While this article could compare PRP therapy against all the other options on the table, it will focus mainly on cortisone shots. Apex Biologix says regenerative medicine practitioners prefer PRP therapy for patients who prove to be good candidates for the alternative treatment.

Cortisone Shots for Elbow Pain

Cortisone shots for pain relief are designed to do two things: reduce inflammation and relieve pain. They do so with a combination of cortisone (a steroid hormone) and a local anesthetic. While this sort of approach may seem completely reasonable, it does not offer the long-term benefits pain sufferers want because it doesn’t actually address healing.

Below are some of the deficiencies of using cortisone shots to relieve joint pain:

  • Limited Relief – The relief offered by cortisone shots is limited at best. This is due to the mechanism they employ for relieving pain, which leads to the second point.
  • Reduced Inflammation – Inflammation may be painful, but it is a natural response of the body that is critical to the healing process. Reducing inflammation actually inhibits the healing process.
  • Tissue Weakening – As a steroid hormone, cortisone is known to weaken tissues that are routinely exposed to it. This means the shots can actually do more damage than if the painful joint were just left alone.
  • Side Effects – The potential side effects of cortisone shots limit how often they can be administered. Side effects include infection, nerve damage, thinning and weakening of surrounding tissue, and even tissue death.

When looked at from a scientific standpoint, cortisone shots do not seem all that attractive for elbow pain. PRP therapy suddenly becomes a lot more attractive.

PRP Therapy for Elbow Pain

The material used in PRP injections is not a pharmaceutical product. Instead, it is a serum consisting of blood platelets and plasma taken from the patient being treated. Blood is drawn, the platelets and plasma are concentrated in a centrifuge, and the resulting material is injected at the treatment site.

The pain relief offered by PRP therapy is longer-lasting. Over time, the body’s natural healing properties mean less frequent injections and less pain. There is inflammation related to the injections, but remember that inflammation is part of the healing process.

In terms of damaging tissue, this is not a concern with PRP injections. The patient is injected with his or her own platelets and plasma, eliminating the risk of both tissue damage and material rejection.

Finally, there are no known side effects related to PRP therapy other than temporary tenderness and inflammation at the blood draw and injection sites. Those side effects are minor by comparison; they also go away rather quickly, and without the fear of complication.

Cortisone shots may be a standard treatment for elbow pain, but that does not make them the best treatment choice. Patients and their doctors are discovering that PRP therapy is a better option.