Public health

PRP media ‘hype’ confusing the public


Media coverage of elite athletes using platelet-rich plasma injections could lead the public to mistakenly believe it’s a routine and effective way to treat sports injuries, researchers warn.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections have been in clinical use for 30 years but efficacy “remains unclear at best” for most conditions, with well-controlled studies showing no benefit for a range of acute and chronic musculoskeletal injuries including torn rotator cuff and acute hamstring injuries, wrote Professor John Rasko from the Centenary Institute, Sydney, and colleagues in  PLOS One this month.

Yet almost a quarter of the 307 news articles published in the three top-selling English-language newspapers between 2009 and 2015 described the treatment as effective.

The most frequent narrative portrayed in papers including The Herald SunThe Australian and The Daily Telegraph painted PRP injections as a routine treatment for sports injuries in elite athletes like Tiger Woods, the authors found.

Just over half the articles explicitly mentioned that the injections had benefits – accelerating healing was the most common claim.

And just over one quarter mentioned the limitations or risks of the treatment, with 11% referring to a lack of evidence to support efficacy.

The popular media’s portrayal of PRP injections to treat sports injuries did not have the “hallmarks of hype” generally found in stories covering cosmetic applications, such as reality TV star Kim Kardashian’s use of the so-called vampire facial, the researchers said.

These articles tended to build hype by using words like “breakthrough” and “cutting edge”.

However, the study authors noted that the use of PRP by elite athletes and celebrities could result in its own kind of hype.

“That is, hype around PRP has developed not by framing it as a breakthrough…but through a lack of critical discussions about evidence for efficacy in stories about routine use by celebrities… for the public the take-away message from these stories may be that celebrity athletes use PRP because it works”.

“The implicit hype generated by news media representations of PRP may also lead to other unintended and negative consequences for policy and practice as it continues to move through the notorious “hype pipeline”, they added.

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