HOUSTON -- Astros fans have seen Doug Brocail pitch many times from the mound. But last May, he made a play for first that took him off the mound for months.
"When I hit the bag there was a popping sound and I was in excruciating pain," said Brocail.
At the time, the smallest movements were difficult for Brocail.
"He couldn’t straighten his leg all the way, he couldn’t walk," said physical therapist Matt Holland.
Brocail had pulled his hamstring from the bone.
"Doug ruptured the hamstring on his landing leg, which is extremely dependent on hamstring strength for a professional pitcher," said Dr. David Lintner, an orthopedic surgeon at the Methodist Center for Sports Medicine and the Astros’ team physician.
Surgery would have ended Brocail’s season, so Lintner suggested a new treatment called Platelet Rich Plasma Injections, or PRP.
PRP requires drawing blood from the patient and placing it in a centrifuge machine, which separates the patient’s platelets from their blood. Fifteen minutes later, the platelets are injected back into the site of the patient’s injury. The platelets accelerate the healing process.
"It takes an injury that may take three or four weeks to resolve and helps it settle down to a week to 10 days," said Lintner.
Lintner said PRP works for injuries to muscles, ligaments or tendons. Athletes with pulled hamstrings, strained calf muscles or sprained ligaments in the elbow, wrist and ankle can benefit from PRP. Some insurance plans cover the treatment. Without insurance, Lintner said it can cost $300-500, depending on how many injections are needed. It’s less expensive compared to surgery or extensive physical therapy sessions.
In Brocail’s case, his injury was very serious, and the treatment was a gamble.
"He had a lot of difficulty standing on one leg, and with that being his lead leg, he’s not a small man," said Holland. "He’s a professional pitcher so going downhill, and being able to stop himself at a high rate of speed and then being able to quickly change directions, if someone bunts or hits a ball and he has to cover first base, very important for him to be able to do that."
"I was not convinced it was going to work. His was the first, that I’m aware of, where it’s been used to treat a complete rupture," said Lintner.
But the intense physical therapy and PRP injections worked for Brocail. His recovery took a few months, but it was better than surgery.
"It worked for me and I hope it works for somebody else," said Brocail. "If it worked on an older guy, it’s definitely going to work on a younger kid."
PRP got Brocail back in the game.