The main difference with PRP and stem cell therapy is the source for each treatment.
Stem cell and PRP therapy both involve collecting samples from your own body, which reduces risks and increases patient safety.
But to fully understand the differences between these therapies, it helps to have a better understanding of what each treatment actually is and what’s involved. Here’s what you need to know:
What is PRP Therapy?
PRP stands for platelet-rich plasma. It’s so-named because the resulting mixture contains a highly concentrated volume of plasma with tiny blood cells called platelets.
Plasma is the largest component of human blood. It’s a clear, straw-colored liquid that remains after white and red blood cells and platelets and other components of blood are removed.
With PRP, the platelets are not removed from the plasma. This is because platelets, which are best known for their role in the clotting process, contain special proteins called growth factors that help tissues heal by stimulating your body’s own natural healing processes.
It should be noted that it naturally generates growth factors to help with the healing process, but there are times when not enough of these special proteins are in the affected area. PRP therapy directly places these proteins in the right place in highly concentrated amounts.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cells are undefined cells that have yet to have a specialized purpose. They are essentially cells with a blank slate.
They eventually become whatever type of cell they need to be based on where they are located. For instance, stem cells that are located in bone tissue will become bone cells.
The type of stem cells normally used for stem cell therapy are adult stem cells. Adult stem cells are undefined cells naturally produced by your own body. These are not embryonic stem cells, which have been controversial over the years because of the way they are obtained.
Collecting Blood for PRP
PRP is collected with blood obtained from a blood test, similar to a routine lab blood test you might have if your doctor wants to check to see how you are responding to certain medications.
The collected blood is spun at very high speeds in a special piece of lab equipment called a centrifuge.
This process separates the plasma and its growth factors from the blood. What’s left is a mixture primarily consisting of platelets and growth factors. The resulting mixture is up to 10x more concentrated than what’s normally seen in a typical blood sample.
Collecting Stem Cells
With stem cell therapy, fat (adipose) tissue is usually taken from the hip (flank) or back area.
Stem cells can also be collected from bone marrow (autologous mesenchymal) as well.
Like PRP, the mixture is also spun in a lab at high speeds. This results in a highly concentrated mixture of adult stem cells.
In some instances, stem cells are obtained from fat tissue used along with platelets. The stem cells collected from bone marrow promotes the regeneration of firm tissue called cartilage, which is what protects your joints by preventing bone-on-bone friction.
The stem cells collected from adipose or fat tissue are typically combined with platelets. This particular mixture tends to work best for the healing of arthritic joints.
An example of this type of healing would be the regrowth of cartilage to help reverse or minimize joint damage.
Stem Cell and PRP Injections
Specially mixed concentrations of stem cells and platelet-rich plasma are both delivered via injection. In order to make the process more comfortable, a topical numbing solution is usually applied to the area being treated.
The injection process itself is fairly quick with both procedures. You may experience discomfort around the injection site after the numbing solution wears off. However, ice and compression can temporarily ease the pain and discomfort.
Stem cell and PRP injections typically don’t produce immediate results, but they can reduce inflammation and improve swelling very quickly. It can take up to a year or more for the stem cells to become specialized cells and work on the affected tissues.
Everybody will have different results with stem cell therapy and PRP therapy. Both techniques are fairly new when compared to more established pain management and treatment methods. Therefore, the studies on results from both techniques are generally limited to smaller studies.
This being said, it should be noted that suitable candidates for either stem cell therapy or PRP therapy tend to report positive results with treatment. You’ll be more likely to benefit from either treatment if you are considered a good candidate for this type of injectable therapy.
There are no standard guidelines for PRP or stem cell therapy. However, preferred candidates are typically individuals meeting the following criteria:
Being in overall good health
Not having bleeding disorders
Having already tried conservative pain management treatments without significant success
It should be noted that neither one of these potentially life-changing treatments is typically covered by insurance. The reason is because there is not significant data on long-term results for either PRP therapy or stem cell therapy. Even so, both treatments are increasingly being recommended because of the possibility of restoring function, relieving pain, and making life easier when dealing with chronic conditions.
Conditions Treatable with Stem Cell and PRP Injections
Stem cell and PRP therapy are also similar in that both treatments are largely intended to treat soft tissue pain.
Most of the pain people experience is related to soft issue or joint-related issues. Arthritis alone affects about 40 million people in the United States. This condition largely affects joints and supporting soft tissues.
For pain relief purposes, stem cell and PRP injections may contribute to beneficial results and less pain if you are dealing with discomfort related to:
Joints affected by arthritis
Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis
Certain spine-related conditions
Sports-related or overuse injuries
Inflammation due to a herniated disc
Rotator cuff tears and similar shoulder injuries
Avascular Necrosis (AVN)
PRP Therapy from Start to Finish
Another way to get a better understanding of the differences between PRP and stem cell therapy is to go over what happens with each treatment. Before PRP therapy is recommended, you’ll undergo a physical examination that includes a review of your medical history and a discussion of your symptoms. It is recommended to seek treatment from an expert in this field. You wouldn’t want a heart surgeon who took a weekend course on heart surgery to fix your heart. You want an experienced expert with extensive knowledge who has been practicing PRP and stem cell therapy for years.
You may also be asked about your previous attempts at treatment. If you have arthritis-related joint pain, for instance, you may have tried anti-inflammatory medication, therapeutic physical therapy exercises, or steroid injections delivered into the affected joint.
If PRP therapy is right for you, the next step is to have a sample of your blood taken. As mentioned above, it’s prepared in a laboratory in a way that results in a mixture of plasma that was a very high concentration of platelets and growth factors.
The injection is then administered into the affected area. If you respond well and experience a decrease in discomfort, you may be encouraged to continue with a personalized physical therapy routine. Doing so could contribute to improvements with range of motion, flexibility, and mobility.
Stem Cell Therapy from Start to Finish
Stem cell therapy also begins with an examination. Image tests may be done as well to confirm that there is soft tissue or joint damage. The initial examination process is similar to what’s done with PRP therapy.
The stem cells will then be collected through a method that’s appropriate for you. It’s common for fat tissue to be used. However, bone marrow is an equally reliable source of stem cells.
What’s appealing about SCT is that it’s not just temporary relief. The healthy, new cells often contribute to tissue healing, which could mean less discomfort and an improved quality of life.
Professional BMX Racer Will Grant documented the Stem Cell process with Dennis M. Lox, M.D. Watch below:
Why the Differences Matter
In many cases, the choice between PRP and stem cell therapy comes down to the nature of your injury or condition. For example, if tissue around joints needs to be rejuvenated or infused with healthy cells, stem cell therapy may be the better option. However, if you have soft tissues that are healing slowly, PRP may be the recommended treatment.
The differences also matter because some patients prefer to use their own blood to facilitate the healing process while others prefer to harness the power of undefined cells that can achieve a similar goal. However, it’s not just a personal preference issue. The decision about which treatment is appropriate is typically based on factors such as:
The nature of your condition/injury
How well you’ve responded to other treatments
The extent of the damage to soft tissues and/or joints
Your goals with treatment and pain management
Combining Stem Cell and PRP Therapy
It’s not really a PRP vs stem cell debate as far as one treatment being better than the other in the sense that both techniques can produce similar benefits. There are some injuries or conditions that patients may benefit more from one than the other. It’s also not unusual for stem cell therapy to be combined with PRP therapy to enhance, or “boost” overall results.
Deciding What’s Right for You
There are several options with PRP and stem cell therapy. As mentioned above, you could receive treatment that combines both PRP and SCT. However, if the nature of your injury suggests that stem cell injections may be more beneficial, then SCT would likely be recommended. But if you have a condition or an injury that’s more likely to improve with enriched plasma with growth factors, then that’s what would likely be recommended.
It’s also possible that you may start out with stem cell therapy as your first treatment. And if the desired results aren’t seen after waiting an appropriate period of time, PRP therapy may be suggested as a complementary treatment as a “booster” to the stem cell therapy.
Ultimately, the decision will be based on physician input, the nature of your condition or injury, and the results seen during follow-up visits after you have your first treatment.
The main point of this PRP vs stem cell therapy comparison is to point out the options you have when seeking relief from persistent joint pain and similar sources of discomfort. Also, realize that it’s entirely possible to benefit from both PRP and stem cell therapy.