Platelet rich plasma injections in Tijuana, my open and honest, personal experience
Tanya Greffard

I have bad knees, achy swollen knees that make running impossible, curling out of the question and bending down nearly impossible.  I’m 44.  Crazy.

We were in Tijuana, Mexico in October again and one of our facilities offered to perform PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) injections to see if I was a candidate.  If this works, more PRP or Stem Cell therapy may ensure I can curl, play ball, exercise, even kneel down again.  I’m all about alternative therapy (and having knees that work), so I’m in.

We did a high dose Vitamin C and Meyer’s ‘Cocktail IV drips early in our trip and scheduled my PRP knee treatment for Thursday, our second last day.  The IVs went without a hitch and I felt amazing afterwards, so I continued on with our business trip rather excited for the PRP therapy.

tanya-swollen-kneesWe spend a lot of time walking when we are visiting cities looking for new doctors, dentists and treatment facilities.  We walk everywhere, we need to ensure our client will be safe when they walk to get meals, go shopping etc.  As the days go on, my knees get bigger and bigger the inflammation makes them warm to the touch, and walking becomes more and more painful.  Not consistent sharp pains, but that all the time dull achy throbbing pain with sharp occasional pains.  While I can go up the stairs, I start using the elevator and escalator to go down as the days go on.

When Wednesday arrives, we go to bed and I ‘fast’ until breakfast.  When you aren’t allowed to eat I always find that I’m STARVING in the morning…

I get there at 9:00 and I’m starting to get nervous.  I must have shed my tough girl composure sometime between leaving the hotel and sitting down to learn more about the therapy.  As it turns out, I’ve become a bit of a chicken about the whole thing.

Diana, the technician arrives and takes about a vat of blood (ok, it was 10 vials but it felt like all….).  She is so good that there was no pain, none.  Any time I’ve given blood in Canada there are a few pokes and the needle insertion point hurts, like a bruise would.  None of that here.  Diana is my new best friend.

The blood goes into a centrifuge and is spun to separate out the platelets.  While this is happening I sit and think…as it turns out it’s not necessarily a good thing for me to have too much time alone with my thoughts before a procedure!

9So, I call over another doctor to again explain what PRP is.  (The platelet rich plasma helps to restore and rejuvenate tendons, ligaments and muscles all using product from your own body).  They will first use a local anesthetic, then insert the platelets guided by ultrasound.

Ok, I understand the procedure and the risks and I’m calm again, however I’m left to my own thoughts for about 40 minute.   Also, now I’m beyond starving and seriously need a coffee…first world problems.

That leads me to a quick ‘side’ point – we were in Tijuana.  Tijuana is safe.  We walk around alone, we take taxis, we rent vehicles and we explore the city.  Two women, never once a problem.  It’s safe.  I cannot stress this enough.

All of this aside, my ego takes over and I’m starting to freak out a little.  At this exact point I’m told the doctor is ready to see me, I’m seeing the “Pain Specialist”.   It’s about 10:20.

I go into the room (it is freezing, like refrigerator cold!) and ask this doctor to again explain the procedure.  I want to know everything from the person who’s going to stick me with a bunch of needles.  I hear my business partner in the hallway, and I know she has food and coffee for me, and ask for her to come in.  He says after we go through the doctor patient details.   (I get coffee soon!)

We discuss my medical history, we discuss any major events concerning my knees, we discuss the sports I’m involved in and which I’ve had to step away from.  We talk about when my knees hurt, how they hurt, how it feels… a bunch of little details that helps him understand where I’m coming from in my pain.

t-and-docHe lets my business partner in, but I’m now laying down and he has the ultrasound out.  (I can smell my coffee and for now that will have to be enough.)  He spends about 30 minutes looking at my knees using the ultrasound machine.  He has one monitor for himself and another for me to watch.  He spends a lot of time showing me where the small tears are, where the fluids are pooling, where fluid is leaking and where my ligaments are rubbing together.  It’s all a little confusing on the monitor, but I mostly see what he is explaining.

The doctor takes all the time I need to understand what is happening with my knees, where my pain is stemming from and what he is looking to do to help me feel better.  I can see that one knee is dramatically worse off that the other and once I can see the comparison I’m a little surprised about how bad it is.  Back at home the specialist only recommended physio appointments.  .  I’m a little miffed that something could have been done sooner, but to be perfectly honest but my nerves have gotten the better of me and I’m totally focused on all the needles on the tray that has just rolled up.

I watch him separate out the platelet rich plasma (to me my blood vials look like there is less volume in them and there is olive oil sitting atop the blood).  They insert a needle and pull out the ‘olive oil’ looking part from the vial.  It’s actually pretty interesting.
legs-sterilizedI’m trying to be brave, but I’m starting to shake and it feels even colder in the room than it did earlier (nerves?).  Thankfully one of the nurses has draped a nice blanket over me.  The doctor himself cleans my legs with some sort of solution and puts those sterile blue sheets with the edge of adhesive both above and below my knees (right down to my ankles, which seemed strange but I’m thankful because I’m still chilly).

He explains that each PRP injection consists of two needles, the local anesthetic followed by the PRP injection.  He tells me that inserting the PRP directly deep into my knee is painful (later I find out as there is a spot that they don’t use the local for – whoa – I am now thankful for the local anesthetic).   I’ve got my big girl panties on and tell him I’m good to go, a little nervous but ok.  I’ve got my camera out after all… how bad can this be?

While it wasn’t horrendous, it certainly brought a tear to my eye more than once.  The one knee that is more damaged is what we started with and good grief, the local anesthetic was insanely painful.  In all fairness, it only lasts for under 10 seconds.  I feel bad for my business partner b/c I know she doesn’t like to see people suffering, especially in a hospital setting, but she is there with me the whole time helping me feel better.

After the first needle I tell him that I’m pretty sure we are not going to be friends by the time this whole thing is done.  He laughs, but you can tell he is clearly sorry that my bad knee is causing me so much pain.  Now I feel bad for him too.   (So typically Canadian, eh?)

The camera is now by my side.  My business partner has come around to hold my hand and is paying close attention to what is going on.  My only focus is when he grabs the needle with the local anesthetic in it, because that is what hurts the most.  The PRP that is inserted near the bottom of the knee (feels like it’s going right into the bone) is ridiculously painful – this is the one they don’t use the local for.  I start to sweat (that nasty stinky nervous sweat, good times) even though he is being super gentle and it only takes a few seconds.

We get to the second knee and I’m either getting more accustomed to what is happening or this knee is less painful b/c it’s not as damaged.  Turns out the latter is true.  It’s smoother sailing but that last injection is still a bitch.

during-injectionsI’m happy once it’s done, to be honest.  The doctor and nurses were all so kind and so gentle.  You could see they were concerned with how much pain I experienced in my first knee.  They are truly wonderful people.

The doctor puts a wrap around my knees and gives me some ‘post op’ instructions.  My  knees are about as swollen and feel about the same as they did earlier, but the pain is definitely more ‘dull’.  Probably due to the anesthetic.

We leave the clinic, and I sit down to eat my omelet.  It’s now about 11:30 or so.  The actual explanation and procedure took under an hour but I’m exhausted.  We gather our luggage (it’s our second last day and we are traipsing around the city to our final appointments, with all of our gear in tow), and head out to hop a cab.  I need a bit of a walking break to be honest.

As the day goes on and we get through some of our appointments I’m not noticing any increased pain so we walk a little bit.  It’s all good, but I’m certainly using the railing as support to go down the stairs where I can, trickier with a suitcase but make it work.

After we get across the border (we decide to spend our last night in San Diego).  No additional discomfort or pain, but due to the usual swelling after a week plus walking everywhere, I can’t bend my knees much so am cautious of getting in/out the vehicle etc.

We get to our hotel and head out walking to find dinner.  I’m pretty sore but It’s totally manageable.  After about 30 mins we decide on food and sit down for dinner.

Once back in the hotel, and in bed I remove the bandage wrap thinking I’m going to feel a huge relief, but nope.  Same same, but that’s cool.  I put a pillow under my knees to sleep b/c they are pretty swollen and a tiny bit bruised.  I have no problem sleeping at all.

Day 2

Next morning the swelling has gone down a bit, but otherwise they feel the same.

I’m not expecting much difference for a month or so as it takes quite a few weeks for your body to start healing itself.  It’s not an instant fix, but if this works it means that I can receive a couple more rounds of injections and each time my body heals itself more and more!  It also means that I may be a candidate for stem cell treatment, which in general is amazing news.

We are currently on the plane heading home to Calgary.  I’m in the aisle seat (mostly b/c I’m tall but also so I can stretch my legs out as need be).  I’m wearing compression socks and am conscious to keep changing positions.

1DAY 3

I realized today that I hopped out of bed and went about getting coffee ready, unpacking from our trip, tidying up etc  without my knees getting in the way.  It’s only been three days and while I cannot fully bend down yet, I can bend my knees without that dull achy tightness that always ends up in a sharp stabbing pain.  While I am not ready to test my knees out fully in case I reverse the good that is happening, but I am straight up excited!!

DAYS 4-6

There wasn’t a huge amount of difference.  I noticed that I could bend my knee, even lowering myself down a bit further than I had been able to.  Happy.  The key word here is definitely happy  with how I am healing so far.  I know I was told it would take a couple of months, but I am thrilled that I’m already seeing results!!

Day 7

I noticed a few sharp pains on the inside of both knees, same general area but in different specific places.  It was a little uncomfortable in certain positions at night, but it has been so much worse for so many years that it’s not a big deal.  I do wonder if it’s b/c I’m starting to ease off on how cautious I’ve been? (I had no idea how cautious I was being in many day to day activities until the pain started to lessen!). Anyhow, I realize this is small little stuff, but I wanted to make sure to mention all the little nuances so anyone considering this procedure goes in informed.

For one week out, I’m super happy with the results so far!

DAY 8

My knees are feeling a little tight, I’m guessing due to inflammation – but oddly enough it’s the right knee (the better one) that’s a bit tighter.  It’s above my knee in the front.  Could be the after effects of sleeping to accommodate the dogs I’m sitting tho…  ha ha.  As the day wore on they became a bit more sore.  They are still dramatically better than they were just a week ago, so I’m happy!

Days 9-14

Things are consistent.  I know that I should not be expecting results for about a month more, but this is amazing.  I can gently kneel down, I can go down stairs without relying on the handrail for support.  There is still achiness and some swelling, there is still sometimes a sharp pain – once in a while.  The overall difference is tremendous.  So much so that when I go back in February I’m taking my Mum, as her knees are terrible too!

The owners are in Calgary this weekend for the Medical Tourism show and we had the opportunity to spend the day showing them around our beautiful city.

Days 16-18

We were at the Medical Tourism show with our doctor, right here in Calgary.  It was two days of standing chatting.  My knees are certainly sore, but not as bad as in the past.  I’m noticing that they seem a bit swollen or tight and there is some of the old pain, but I’m still no where near the point where I should feel the most difference.  I’m still thrilled and am telling everyone about my experience.  I recommend this to so many people.

About 1 month later

I’m still happy.  I’ve noticed more stiffness and achiness but that’s after walking around a few trade shows in less than ideal footwear.  Stairs are still easier and I’m still looking forward to heading back in February for more injections.  Well, I’m not looking forward to the injections per-say but for the results – I’m still all in!  I am going to talk with one of the doctors about maybe doing stem cell treatments down the road also.

If you have any questions about my experience, want me to ask specific questions when I am there or simply want to see if you are a candidate, comment below or click here.  (Our website also has live chat if you prefer!)