Purpose: The aim of this review was to analyze the available evidence on the clinical application of this biological approach for the injective treatment of cartilage lesions and joint degeneration, together with preclinical studies to support the rationale for the use of platelet concentrates, to shed some light and give indications on what to treat and what to expect from intra-articular injections of platelet-rich plasma (PRP).
Methods: All in vitro, in vivo preclinical and clinical studies on PRP injective treatment in the English language concerning the effect of PRP on cartilage, synovial tissue, menisci, and mesenchymal stem cells were considered. A systematic review on the PubMed database was performed using the following words: (platelet-rich plasma or PRP or platelet concentrate or platelet lysate or platelet supernatant) and (cartilage or chondrocytes or synoviocytes or menisci or mesenchymal stem cells).
Results: Fifty-nine articles met the inclusion criteria: 26 were in vitro, 9 were in vivo, 2 were both in vivo and in vitro, and 22 were clinical studies. The analysis showed an increasing number of published studies over time. Preclinical evidence supports the use of PRP injections that might promote a favourable environment for joint tissues healing. Only a few high-quality clinical trials have been published, which showed a clinical improvement limited over time and mainly documented in younger patients not affected by advanced knee degeneration.
Conclusions: Besides the limits and sometimes controversial findings, the preclinical literature shows an overall support toward this PRP application. An intra-articular injection does not just target cartilage; instead, PRP might influence the entire joint environment, leading to a short-term clinical improvement. Many biological variables might influence the clinical outcome and have to be studied to optimize PRP injective treatment of cartilage degeneration and osteoarthritis.