Carl Crawford's visit to Dr. James Andrews didn't end with the Red Sox left fielder going under the knife. He didn't escape completely unscathed, though, as he was given a platelet-rich plasma injection in the affected area of his elbow, in order to treat his sprained ulnar collateral ligament.
A platelet-rich plasma injection, or PRP injection, isn't a new treatment, but it's still relatively new in the world of sports medicine. As recently as 2009, there was skepticism about whether or not PRP injections even sped up the healing process in the way they were believed to. It was even wondered whether or not PRP injections constituted a form of illegal doping as a performance enhancer. While the World Anti-Doping Agency eventually made it a point to declare that PRP injections were not considered a form of doping, the fact this was only recently resolved gives you some indication of how new this procedure still is for athletes.
In a PRP injection, a patient's blood is injected into the weakened and injured area, after it's been spun in a centrifuge and the platelet-rich plasma has been separated from the rest of the blood. This PRP stimulates tissue recovery thanks to a multitude of growth factors found within the body's own blood, and in theory allows the patient to avoid surgery. Avoiding surgery means shorter recovery times -- take Takashi Saito for instance, the Dodgers pitcher who had a PRP injection for his partially torn UCL. Rather than miss the year or more that Tommy John recipients tend to, Saito had a PRP injection, and after missing half of July and all of August, returned in mid-September before the Dodgers started the postseason.
The highest-profile patients that helped spur interest in the procedure weren't in baseball, but in the NFL, where Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers both received PRP injections before taking home the Lombardi Trophy, and in golf, where Tiger Woods used them on his balky knee.
Three months seems to be the worst-case scenario for Crawford, even though it was the figure reported yesterday. The Red Sox believe he could be back before the All-Star break, if not June, cutting about a month off of that initial timeframe. It's likely this kind of expedited recovery from a UCL injury wouldn't be possible without a platelet-rich plasma injection, and it's encouraging to see the Red Sox and Carl Crawford attempt this form of treatment, rather than having one of their players go under yet another surgery.