As if there weren't enough questions swirling around Tiger Woods, the golfer preparing to make his return to the game this week at the Masters revealed that he received an experimental medical treatment from a Canadian doctor under investigation for alleged links to human growth hormones.
During a long and open press appearance while practicing Monday at the Augusta National Golf Club, Woods said he had Dr. Anthony Galea administer PRP or platelet rich plasma treatments.
Woods had been linked to Galea in media reports since the doctor came under investigation after U.S. customs caught his assistant allegedly transporting HGH across the border.
Woods denied that he received human growth hormone treatments, or "any illegal drug ever for that matter," instead saying that he had received PRP treatments from the Canadian physician.
Neither the PGA Tour, nor Woods' representatives returned messages seeking comment.
Platelet-rich plasma injections, or PRP treatments, have spread across the sports medicine community in recent years, and are even reaching lay people. A few doctors in select academic research hospitals are investigating the idea, but most agree the technique is far from standardized, never mind proven.
During a PRP the procedure, doctors draw blood, put it in a centrifuge to separate the blood's plasma (which contains platelets) from the red blood cells and then inject the solution back into the patient's injury.
Supposedly this concentrated injection would mimic the healing process when blood swells around an injury site. The idea is to maximize, or accelerate the signals a swollen injury site sends to the body to continue the healing process.
But not all doctors are convinced the procedure really works.
"It's kind of expensive to pull it out plasma," said Dr. William O. Roberts, past president of the American College of Sports Medicine. "The temptation of it is that you're using your own tissue, your own blood to heal your injury. But the process? I'm just not sure it's ready to go yet."
"Some people have had good luck with it, and I don't know if it's real or not," Roberts said.
Roberts said he does not endorse PRP and hasn't tried it in patients yet. A randomized control trial of PRP published in the Journal of American Medical Association didn't bode well for the treatment.
"It didn't have much better effect than the placebo," he said.
Effective or not, PRP is currently only restricted by sports organizations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency. According to ESPN, PRP is allowed by the PGA.
"Whether it [PRP] actually works or not, I think the jury is out," said Dr. Gary I. Wadler, chairman of WADA's prohibitive list committee.
WADA allows athletes to get platelet rich plasma treatments to heal torn ligaments, tendons and joint injuries if the athlete submits a declaration of use.
But Wadler said WADA bans PRP injections in muscles because "it's believed that it stimulates stem cells, which make the muscles get bigger" and that is perceived as enhancement rather than treatment.